Turkey scrambles to free up cash as currency crisis strikes
Issue sparked by concerns over Erdogan’s economic policies, and a dispute with the US
The Turkish lira hit a record low on Sunday after president Recep Tayyip Erdogan showed no sign of backing down.
Turkey’s lira pulled back from a record low of 7.24 to the dollar on Monday after the central bank pledged to provide liquidity, but it remained under selling pressure and its meltdown caused further unease on global markets.
The currency has lost more than 40 per cent against the dollar this year, largely due to worries about President Tayyip Erdogan’s influence over the economy, his repeated calls for lower interest rates, and worsening ties with the United States.
On Friday the slide turned into a crash: the lira dropped as much as 18 per cent, hitting US and European stocks as investors took fright over banks’ exposure to Turkey.
Another lira collapse on Sunday night hit Asian shares and drove global demand for the safe-haven dollar, Swiss franc and yen.
Erdogan, rejecting economic fundamentals as the cause of lira weakness, said Turkey was the target of an economic war.
He also said he expected the exchange rate to return to a “rational level” and that Turkey had an action plan in place.
In Berlin, German chancellor Angela Merkel said “no one has an interest in an economic destabilisation in Turkey” and that Ankara should ensure the central bank’s independence.
The bank, which surprised markets last month when it held interest rates despite the tumbling lira, announced measures on liquidity and reserves after Finance Minister Berat Albayrak said the economic action plan would start on Monday.
Bankers also said the central bank would meet banks’ lira liquidity needs at the overnight rate of 19.25 per cent –150 basis points above the benchmark weekly repo rate – though it might not use the overnight funding on Monday because needs were low.
They said that could be the first step towards tightening policy via an interest rate corridor, an instrument used in previous years, rather than increasing the benchmark rate.
The reserve requirement moves will free up 10 billion lira, $6 billion, and $3 billion equivalent of gold liquidity in the financial system, the bank said. It also pledged to provide “all the liquidity banks need”.
The lira pared losses after Albayrak’s comments and the central bank announcement, but dropped again during the day and traded at 6.978 per dollar in late afternoon trading.
Turkish bank shares fell to their lowest in dollar terms since November 2003 and their dollar bonds and sovereign dollar debt tumbled.
In an interview published on Sunday, Albayrak said the economic plan would ease investor concerns, stressing budget discipline and ruling out any seizure or conversion of dollar-denominated bank deposits into lira.
Market analysts broadly welcomed Albayrak’s published comments but said investors wanted action.
“Turkey needs a complete rebalancing of its economic business plan, and very sharp rate hikes and a strong commitment that the central bank will be independent,” Credit Agricole’s senior emerging markets strategist Guillaume Tresca said.
But a drastic rate hike was unlikely because of the damage it would do to Turkey’s corporate sector, while capital controls would close off access to foreign exchange for companies already short of dollars, Tresca said.
Simon Derrick, chief currency strategist at BNY Mellon, said that in the absence of a decisive rate hike, “it is hard to look at these announcements as being anything more than temporary calming measures, rather than solutions to the problems at hand”.
Raphael Marechal, head portfolio manager, emerging markets, Nikko Asset Management Europe, said rate hikes might make things worse, given the stresses in the economy. “But it would send a signal to external investors and to the market that the central bank is concerned about inflation.”
The interior ministry said on Monday it was taking legal action against 346 social media accounts that had posted “provocative” comments about the weakening lira. – Reuters and AP