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Run on the Lira forces Turkey's central bank to raise benchmark rate to 24%

Onur Ant | Bloomberg/ 13 Sep 18 | 05:33 PM

Turkish Lira. Photo: Bloomberg

Turkey’s central bank raised its benchmark interest rate by the most since Recep Tayyip Erdogan came to power 15 years ago, countering the president’s call for lower borrowing costs just two hours before the decision was announced. The currency rallied.

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The Monetary Policy Committee led by Governor Murat Cetinkaya on Thursday increased the one-week repo rate by 625 basis points to 24 per cent, more than the median estimate in a Bloomberg survey that called for a hike of 325 basis points.


The bank’s decision came shortly after Erdogan triggered tumult by repeating his hostility to higher borrowing costs and issuing an order that limited the use of foreign currency in domestic transactions. The independence of monetary policy has been in doubt since Erdogan pledged in his election campaign this year to take on a greater role to bring interest rates lower.


“Great decision — made all the more difficult by the huge pressure on the central bank from Erdogan," said Bluebay Asset Management LLC strategist Tim Ash. “The Turks just gave themselves a chance to hold the lira and rebuild the trust of the market."


Lira Gains


The lira rose after the decision and was trading 3.1 per cent higher at 6.1604 per dollar at 2:23 p.m. in Istanbul. It has lost around 40 percent of its value this year.


Turkey’s financial troubles have helped fuel an investor exodus from emerging markets in other regions -- with the Argentine peso and the South African rand sliding. Rising US interest rates have discouraged the riskier reach for yield, deepening home-grown crises.


Before the move by policy makers in Ankara Thursday, the run on the currency forced the central bank to deliver some tightening where it could. They increased the cost of cash to commercial lenders by around 150 basis points last month by forcing them to use a borrowing tool costlier than the one-week repo rate.


Earlier in the day, Erdogan published an executive decree that forces contracts between two entities in Turkey to be made in liras rather than foreign currencies.


The measure applies to contracts on the buying and selling of any kind of property, real estate, transportation, financial leasing, leasing, services and products, according to the decree published in the Official Gazette.


The measure will create “total chaos" and is probably impossible to implement within the time frame allotted, according to Hulusi Belgu, head of the Turkish shopping malls investors association. He said the sector had $15 billion in debt and that 70 percent of all shopping mall rent contracts were priced in foreign currency.



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