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Turkish Lira Hits 14 to USD in Face of Erdogan’s ‘Dangerous Experiment'

Turkish Lira Hits 14 to USD in Face of Erdogan’s ‘Dangerous Experiment'

Wednesday, 1 December, 2021 - 05:45
A money changer counts Turkish lira banknotes at a currency exchange office in Ankara, Turkey November 11, 2021. (Reuters)

Turkey's lira plunged as low as 14 to the US dollar and hit new lows against the euro on Tuesday, capping a historical month of selling after President Tayyip Erdogan again endorsed aggressive interest rate cuts despite widespread criticism and soaring inflation.

The lira fell as much as 8.6% to the greenback, which was boosted after hawkish comments from the US Federal Reserve, underscoring the risks for Turkey's economy and for Erdogan's own political future.

The lira ended the session down 4.6% to the dollar, at 13.415, and at 15.2809 to the euro, Reuters reported.

The currency has lost some 45% of its value so far this year and 28.3% in November alone, rapidly eroding Turks' earnings and savings, upending household budgets and even leaving them scrambling to find some imported medicines.

The monthly sell-off was among the currency's largest ever and joins the ranks of crises in 2018, 2001 and 1994 for the big emerging market economy.

Tuesday's tumble came as Erdogan, for the fifth time in less than two weeks, defended the monetary easing that most economists have called reckless.

In an interview with state broadcaster TRT, Erdogan said there was "no turning back" from the new policy direction.

"We will see that the interest rates will fall markedly and hence there will be an improvement in exchange rates before the elections," he said.

Turkey's leader of nearly two decades faces sliding opinion polls and a vote by mid-2023. Polls show Erdogan would lose head-to-head with the most likely presidential opponents.

Under pressure from Erdogan, the central bank has slashed rates by 400 basis points to 15% since September and is widely expected to ease again in December. With inflation running near 20%, real rates are deeply negative.

In response, the opposition has called for an immediate policy reversal and snap elections. Concerns about central bank credibility took another blow on Tuesday after a top official was said to have left his post.

"It's a dangerous experiment Erdogan is trying to run and the market is trying to warn him about the consequences," said Brian Jacobsen, senior investment strategist, multi-asset solutions at Allspring Global Investments.

"Imports are likely to rise in price as the lira falls, making inflation worse. Foreign investment could be scared away, making it harder to finance growth. Credit default swaps are pricing in a higher risk of default," he added.

"Investors are getting more and more nervous. ... It's a toxic brew."

Turkey’s five-year credit default swaps , the cost to insure against a sovereign default, jumped 6 basis points from Monday’s close to 510 bps, the highest since November 2020, according to IHS Markit.

Spreads to safe-haven U.S. Treasuries (.JPMEGDTURR) widened to 564 bps, also the widest in a year. They have widened 100 bps from earlier this month.

Turkey's economy grew 7.4% year-on-year in the third quarter, according to official data released on Tuesday, boosted by retail demand, manufacturing and exports.

Erdogan and other government officials have stressed that while there may be price pain for a while, the monetary stimulus should boost exports, credit, jobs and economic growth.

Economists say the depreciation and accelerated inflation - which is seen reaching 30% next year due in large part to the currency devaluation - will derail Erdogan's plan. Virtually all other central banks are raising rates or preparing to do so.

Erdogan predicted inflation would ease and the current account would turn to surplus next year.

"Some people are making efforts to make them seem weak, but the economic indicators are in very good condition," Erdogan said. "Our country is now at a point that can break this trap, there is no turning back."

"Turkey will not live in a trap of exchange rate, inflation and interest rates," he added.

Reuters has reported, citing sources, that Erdogan ignored appeals in recent weeks, even from within his government, to reverse policy.

A central bank source said on Tuesday that the executive director of the bank's markets department, Doruk Kucuksarac, had left his post and had been replaced by his deputy, Hakan Er.

Kucuksarac did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A banker who requested anonymity said Kucuksarac's departure was further evidence of an "erosion and devastation" of the institution after this year's mass leadership overhaul and years of political influence on policy.

Erdogan sacked three monetary policy committee members in October. Governor Sahap Kavcioglu was only appointed to the post in March after the president fired his three predecessors in the last 2-1/2 years over policy disagreements.

November inflation data will be released on Friday and a Reuters poll forecast that it will rise to an annual 20.7%, the highest level in three years.

"Monetary policy is likely to remain under political influence and not tight enough to significantly reduce inflation, stabilize the currency and restore investor confidence," said credit ratings firm Moody's.

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