Turkey Expected to Hike Rates in New Test for Central Bank


The Turkish central bank is expected to lift interest rates on Thursday to combat the plunge in value of the lira and rampant inflation, with markets seeing the magnitude of the hike as a critical test of the bank's credibility.

Turkey has in recent weeks been battling through one of the most troubled periods for its economy under the rule of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with the lira battered on currency markets in August.

But the bank has not touched interest rates since early June with markets concerned that the policy of the nominally independent bank is being dictated by Erdogan, who has denounced interest rates as the "mother and father of all evil".

However after inflation came in at close to 18 percent in August, the bank on September 3 gave a clear indication that it was set to raise rates, saying the inflation outlook indicated "significant risks" and vowing the "monetary stance will be adjusted" at Thursday's meeting.

The bank also has to balance concerns over slipping growth, which, although a robust 5.2 percent in the second quarter on an annual comparison, showed signs of weakness with some analysts predicting Turkey is heading for recession.

- 'No Argentina scenario' -

Nora Neuteboom, an economist at ABN Amro, said the bank's statement indicated a rate rise of around 200 to 250 basis points (2.0 to 2.5 percentage points) was to be expected but no more.

"We do not foresee an 'Argentina scenario' of an aggressive hike, that would go against the monetary policy that Turkey, so far, has practised," she told AFP, referring to the Argentinian central bank's recent hike to a world-high of 60 percent.

But Neuteboom said markets would be "disappointed" with a 200-250 basis points hike, adding she expected "further lira weakness ahead" and the lira reaching 8.2 against the US dollar by the end of the year.

Anthony Skinner, director of Middle East and North Africa at Verisk Maplecroft, said his base scenario was for a hike of 200-300 basis points and predicted the bank would fall short of appeasing those who wanted a hike of 500 basis points.

"Economists and investors are clamouring for the central bank to engage in an aggressive rate hike but they are more likely than not to be disappointed," he said.

In the past month, the lira has lost nearly 15 percent in value against the greenback, topping 7 to the dollar before rallying. It has lost over 40 percent against the dollar since January.

Inan Demir, an economist at Nomura, said he also expected a 200-250 basis point hike but raised "the non-negligible risk" that the one-week repo rate would in fact remain unchanged.

The one-week repo rate, the central bank's key policy rate, has been 17.75 percent since June 7.

In such a scenario, the bank would raise the other two rates of the interest-rate corridor: the overnight lending rate and late liquidity window (LLW) rate.

The bank implemented what economists described as a hidden interest rate hike in mid-August, forcing banks to borrow at the higher 19.25 percent through the overnight lending facility.

- 'No more US spats' -

Analysts say the lira's plunge has been sparked by a combination of concerns over domestic policymaking and a crisis in relations with the United States.

As well as being seen to undermine the independence of the central bank, Erdogan in July stunned markets by appointing his son-in-law Berat Albayrak as finance minister.

Relations with the US deteriorated last month after Washington imposed sanctions on two Turkish ministers over the detention of an American pastor and US President Donald Trump doubled steel and aluminium tariffs on Turkey.

Neuteboom said Turkey needed to go beyond just using monetary policy tools and refocus its economy towards long-term growth.

"It first of all needs (geo)political stability, no more spats with the US and a clear outlined economic reform plan," she added.

Deniz Cicek, an economist at QNB Finansbank, said Turkey needed "an appropriate fiscal policy and structural reform agenda" that markets await to see in a medium-term plan to be outlined this month by Albayrak.

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