It was another bad day for the Turkish lira, which after plunging 5.8% in the first days of 2017, fell as much as 1.8% in early trading, dropping to a new all time low of 3.78 against the dollar, down nearly 7% YTD against the USD, pressured by a deteriorating economy, unpredictable terrorist and militant attacks, and a authoritarian president. The lira also passed 4 to the euro for the first time on Tuesday, with a deputy prime minister saying the economy was being targeted by “sabotage and attacks”.
Market focus has turned on the lira as a result of Turkey’s large external borrowing requirement which makes its currency one of the most vulnerable currencies to tightening by the Fed.
Not helping matters is that Turkish residents have been flocking to the stability of hard currencies, the opposite of what President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been urging. As the following Bloomberg chart shows, deposits in foreign exchange for individuals and companies excluding banks rose for a third week, signaling a lack of confidence in the lira. It’s the biggest loser among world currencies so far in 2017.
Additionally, Turkish economic growth has remained sluggish and inflation is rising, yet the central bank has been under pressure from President Tayyip Erdogan not to hike interest rates. A series of gun and bomb attacks have heightened security concerns. On Tuesday the Turkish parliament voted to press on with a debate about constitutional reform to strengthen the powers of President Tayyip Erdogan.
“Nobody wants to be the last one in there and everyone is running for the door. There are no signs from the authorities that they are taking it seriously,” said Jakob Christensen, head of EM research at Danske Bank. Christensen said the risk of further attacks was undermining the tourist sector, which is vital for the economy and balance of payments.
Making matters worse, and confirming the currency crisis is becoming one of credit, Turkish five-year credit default swaps rose four bps to 288 bps according to Markit data, a one-month high, and the yield premium paid by Turkish sovereign bonds over U.S. Treasuries on the JPMorgan EMBI Global Diversified widened out 4 bps to 377 bps.
And while the central bank’s hand are largely tied as per Erdogan’s decree that no rates are to be hiked, moments ago the monetary authority had no choice but to intervene when it cut FX required reserve amounts by 50 bps, which it said would boost liquidity by around $1.5 billion, citing “unhealthy” price formation. In a statement on its website, the central bank also said the that additional steps might be taken to protect price and financial stability if necessary. It noted that it monitors “excessive volatility” in markets. The Cenbank also lowered commercial lenders’ total borrowing limits in interbank money markets to 22b liras from Wednesday without saying what the previous limit was.
While the lira spiked modestly higher in kneejerk reaction, if recent similar overtures by its pressured EM peers are any indication, this latest intervention should have a half life of about an hour before the modest gains are all gone.