Erdogan fires Turkish central bank governor for third time in less than three years

Naci Agbal had raised interest rates by 200 basis points on Thursday to curb inflation

FILE PHOTO: Turkey's Central Bank Governor Naci Agbal poses during an interview with Reuters in his office in Istanbul, Turkey, February 4, 2021. REUTERS/Umit Bektas/File Photo
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Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan sacked central bank governor Naci Agbal on Saturday, two days after the bank hiked interest rates to curb rising inflation and falls in the lira, replacing him with a former ruling party parliamentarian.

It was the third time Mr Erdogan, who has repeatedly called for low interest rates, has dismissed a central bank chief since July 2019 and is likely to renew pressure on Turkey's currency when markets reopen.

Mr Agbal, appointed less than five months ago, aggressively raised the main policy interest rate by 875 basis points to 19 per cent, the highest of any big economy, winning praise from analysts who said he had established central bank credibility.

His sacking comes two days after the bank hiked rates by a more-than-expected 200 basis points on Thursday, in what it called a "front-loaded" move to head off further rises in double-digit inflation and a sliding lira.

The country's Official Gazette said Erdogan replaced him with Sahap Kavcioglu, a former member of parliament for Erdogan's ruling AK Party and a critic of Turkey's high rates.

"While interest rates are close to zero in the world, opting for a rate hike for us will not solve economic problems," he wrote in an article for Yeni Safak newspaper last month, adding that rate hikes will "indirectly cause inflation to rise".

The Daily Sabah newspaper said Mr Kavcioglu is an economist who served at high-level positions in several banks, including state lenders Halkbank and Vakifbank.

Since Mr Agbal's appointment on November 7, the lira had rebounded more than 15 per cent from a record low of beyond 8.50 to the US dollar. But even during his brief tenure, the president had publicly stated a preference for lower rates, leaving the central banker little room for manoeuvre.

"Agbal is damned if he hikes and damned if he doesn't," Emre Peker, director of the Europe team at Eurasia Group, had said ahead of Thursday's large rate hike.

Mr Agbal had said maintaining a tight monetary stance was not a short-term policy and that Turkey could get inflation – currently above 15% – down to its target level of 5 per cent by 2023 by sticking to that line.

"If you abandon a tight policy stance ... at an early stage, past experiences show that inflation moves upward again," Mr Agbal told Reuters last month in his first interview as governor.

His removal continues the rapid turnover at the bank, which has now seen four governors in less than two years.

In July 2019, Mr Erdogan sacked governor Murat Cetinkaya for not bringing interest rates down swiftly. He dismissed Cetinkaya's replacement, Murat Uysal, in November last year after the lira slumped to its record low.