Turkish lira plunges 15% to near record lows

President Erdogan abruptly ousted latest bank chief Agbal on Saturday

Analysts fear Turkey could now be nudged towards a balance of payments crisis. Photograph: Kerem Uzel/Bloomberg

Analysts fear Turkey could now be nudged towards a balance of payments crisis. Photograph: Kerem Uzel/Bloomberg

 

Turkey’s lira slid 15 per cent to a near all-time low on Monday after president Tayyip Erdogan’s shock weekend ousting of a hawkish central bank governor sparked fears of a reversal of recent rate hikes, before clawing back some overnight losses.

The appointment of Sahap Kavcioglu, a former banker and ruling party lawmaker, in the early hours on Saturday marked the third time since mid-2019 that Mr Erdogan has abruptly fired a central bank chief.

Mr Kavcioglu sought to ease concerns about a sharp sell-off in Turkish assets and a pivot from tight to loose policy, telling bank chief executives on Sunday he planned no immediate policy change, a source told Reuters.

The currency tumbled to as weak as 8.4850 versus the dollar, from 7.2185 on Friday, back to levels touched in early November when it reached an intraday record of 8.58. It recovered about half of those losses after minister for finance Lutfi Elvan said Turkey would stick to free market rules, reaching 7.76 at 0620 GMT, 7 per cent weaker from Friday.

Goldman Sachs and others had expected a sharp dive in the lira and Turkish assets given the new governor’s dovish and even unorthodox views, and what was seen as the latest damage to the bank’s credibility amid years of policy interference that has dogged the major emerging market economy.

The weekend overhaul could soon reverse the hawkish steps taken by predecessor Naci Agbal, analysts said, and nudge Turkey toward a balance of payments crisis given its depleted buffer of FX reserves. Turkey “will be left with two choices, either it pledges to use interest rates to stabilise markets, or it imposes capital controls”, said Per Hammarlund, senior EM strategist at SEB Research.

Mr Elvan said authorities were determined to stick to free-market rules and a free-floating currency regime. He said in a statement the macro policy framework would continue until there was a lasting fall in inflation.

Mr Erdogan fired Mr Agbal two days after a sharp rate hike that was meant to head off inflation of nearly 16 per cent and a dipping lira. In less than five months on the job, Mr Agbal had raised rates by 875 basis points to 19 per cent and regained some policy credibility as the lira rallied from its nadir.

Cristian Maggio, a strategist at TD Securities, said the overhaul “demonstrates the erratic nature of policy decisions in Turkey, especially with regard to monetary matters [and risks] looser, unorthodox, and eventually mostly pro-growth policies from now on”.

On the call with Turkish bankers, Mr Kavcioglu said current policy would continue and any change would depend on lowering inflation, which he said was the primary goal, the source familiar with the call said. The central bank did not immediately comment on the call. In a statement on Sunday, Mr Kavcioglu said the bank would focus on permanently lowering inflation, which had been stuck in double digits for most of the last four years. He said policy meetings would remain on a monthly schedule, suggesting any rate cuts may wait until the next planned meeting on April 15th.

A former member of parliament for Mr Erdogan’s AK Party (AKP), Mr Kavcioglu has espoused the unorthodox views shared by the president. He wrote high rates “indirectly cause inflation to rise”, in a newspaper column last month. – Reuters