Turkish lira slumps to record low amid inflation worries

Currency has tumbled 16% since March when President Erdogan abruptly fired a market-friendly central bank chief

A money changer counts Turkish lira banknotes at a currency exchange office in Istanbul, Turkey August 2, 2018. Picture taken August 2, 2018. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
Powered by automated translation

Turkey's lira tumbled to a new record low of 8.6 versus the dollar on Friday as it took a hit from global inflation concerns, expectations that the central bank will soon cut rates and worries over possible early elections.

The currency - by far the worst performer in emerging markets (EMs) this year - weakened beyond the intraday low of 8.58 that it touched in November. It recouped some losses and was at 8.562 against the US currency at 0834 GMT.

It also logged a new nadir of 10.4696 against the euro.

The lira has tumbled 16 per cent since mid-March when President Tayyip Erdogan abruptly fired a hawkish and market-friendly central bank chief and replaced him with Sahap Kavcioglu, who had criticised recent rate hikes.

Despite Turkish inflation having risen above 17 per cent in April, the bank is expected to lower its policy rate from 19 per cent in coming months.

But as the world emerges from the pandemic, global inflation has risen and pushed up US bond yields. That in turn pulls funds from emerging markets such as Turkey, hitting the lira and putting more upward pressure on domestic prices due to its heavy imports.

"Earlier than expected (monetary) tightening in advanced economies is the most serious risk for Turkey because the inflationary pressures are mounting across the globe," said Hakan Kara, former chief economist at the central bank who is now at Bilkent University.

"If there was an early tapering (of US Federal Reserve asset purchases) that would not be good news for emerging economies, especially for the ones facing external fragilities," he said on a World Bank panel on Thursday.

The lira has slipped for four days straight in part, bankers said, because of calls for early elections from opposition parties in the face of uncorroborated allegations against government officials from a mafia boss.

The series of accusations this month by Sedat Peker, whose YouTube videos have been watched by millions, have forced Mr Erdogan to defend his interior minister and insist that elections will not happen until 2023 as scheduled.

The lira has shed more than half its value in the last three years as Mr Erdogan has ousted three central bank governors and his government has used unorthodox policies which analysts say have left the economy more vulnerable to crises.

Foreign currency reserves plunged in the last two years as state banks sold about $128 billion in dollars to stabilise the lira, leaving Turkey potentially vulnerable if companies and banks have trouble meeting high foreign debt obligations.

Naci Agbal, who preceded Mr Kavcioglu at the central bank, served less than five months as governor and was appointed a day after the lira logged its last record low in November.

Mr Agbal's aggressive rate hikes attracted foreign investors and briefly turned things around for the currency.

But Tatha Ghose, analyst at Commerzbank, said Mr Erdogan's public opposition to high rates and his rapid leadership shuffles have hurt the central bank's credibility and led to a "familiar lira spiral".

"Each burst of depreciation risks triggering a fresh lira crisis as it begins to feed back into higher inflation, which the central bank cannot fight off because it is unable to credibly hike rates," he said in a client note.