Will the rally in the Turkish Lira last?

This week has brought a pretty much text book example of what can happen when a currency is in distress as well as a reminder of perspective. Let me start with the trigger for some changes which came last weekend.

The shock departure of finance minister Berat Albayrak, who is President Tayyip Erdogan’s son-in-law, and central bank chief Murat Uysal over the weekend gave the lira its best day in over two years on Monday.

Investors hope their successors will deliver another of the country’s pirouettes, where long-suppressed interest rates are lifted dramatically, providing the currency with some much-needed relief. ( Reuters)

There is a lot going on there. But let’s start with a possible end or at least reduction in cronyism. There we have an unusual mention of a Lira rally followed by a curious mention of “long-suppressed interest-rates”. That depends on your perspective because in these times the rate below is rather extraordinary as it is.

keep the policy rate (one-week repo auction rate) constant at 10.25 percent,

Back on October 12th we noted a change in swap rates to 11.75% to try and support the Lira but in what may seem extraordinary a 1.5% move in these circumstances is not much. The real issue when an interest-rate is trying to support a currency is the gap between it and others. This week we have looked at an interest-rate maybe reaching 1% in the US ( ten-year bond yield) and Japan where we are around 0% so there is quite a gap. Even those are high relative to the -0.5% of the Euro and the around -0.5% of the German ten-year yield and of course there is a lot of trade between the Euro area and Turkey.

The textbook

Put mostly simply a currency is helped by an interest-rate advantage as investors include it in their calculations of expected capital gains. The problem in practice is that in times of real distress the expected currency falls are much larger than any likely interest-rate increase. I provided an example of this back on the 12th of October.

Because of the economic links the exchange-rate with the Euro is significant. Indeed some Euro area banks must be mulling their lending to Turkish borrowers as well as Euro area exporters struggling with an exchange-rate of 9.32. That is some 43% lower than a year ago.

So even with a pick-up of the order of 11% you have lost 32% over the past 12 months.

However this can change rapidly because the moment there is any sort of stability the carry is suddenly rather attractive. After all you can get more in the Turkish Lira in a month than most places in a year and in some cases you can do that in a week. This leads to the situation suddenly reversing and giving us this.

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey’s lira firmed on Friday to its strongest level in seven weeks, notching a weekly gain of some 12%, after President Tayyip Erdogan’s pledge to adopt a new economic model raised expectations of a sharp rate hike from the central bank.

So we have seen a jump higher in the Lira with expectations now of this.

The central bank is seen raising its policy rate next week to 15% from 10.25%, a Reuters poll showed. Erdogan’s speech was viewed as implying he would condone such a hike.

So the expected carry is even higher and for once there is a capital gain. Some will like this although I have to confess if I had been long the Lira this week I would be considering the advice of the Steve Miller Band.

Hoo-hoo-hoo, go on, take the money and run
Go on, take the money and run
Hoo-hoo-hoo, go on, take the money and run
Go on, take the money and run

As whilst there may be changes there are icebergs waiting for this particular Titanic.

In contrast to previous episodes of lira turmoil, the central bank is estimated to have burnt through more than $100 billion of reserves this year, leaving it effectively around $36 billion overdrawn on those reserves, according to UBS.

The central bank has not commented on analysis suggesting its reserves are ‘net’ negative, though it has said its buffers fluctuate naturally in times of stress. ( Reuters)

So “buffers fluctuate in times of stress” can be added to my financial lexicon for these times.

The economy

There has been some better economic news this morning especially from consumption.

There was better news for retail sales in the country on Friday. The volume of goods purchased by consumers increased by an annual 7.8 percent in September after 6 percent growth in August, the statistics institute said. The monthly increase was 2.8 percent, more than three times the August figure of 0.9 percent. ( Ahval)

Also industrial production rose although Ahval is rather downbeat about it.

Industrial output in the country expanded at the slowest pace on a monthly basis since the outbreak of the coronavirus in March, official data published on Friday showed. Production increased by 1.7 percent month-on-month in September compared with 3.4 percent in August and 8.4 percent in July……..Manufacturing of non-durable goods in the country grew by just 0.6 percent month-on-month in September, the Turkish Statistical Institute said. Production of intermediate goods expanded by 0.7 percent.

There is a catch though in that the better retail sales news rather collides with one of the ongoing economic problems which is the trade deficit.On Wednesday the central bank ( CBRT) updated us about this.

The current account posted USD 2,364 million deficit compared to USD 2,828 million surplus observed in the same month of 2019, bringing the 12-month rolling deficit to USD 27,539 million.

So the passing twelve months have brought a switch from a monthly surplus to deficit and we see that the annual picture is the same. The driving forces of this are below.

This development is mainly driven by the net outflow of USD 3,709 million in the goods item increasing by USD 3,044 million, as well as the net inflow of USD 1,692 million in services item decreasing by USD 2,869 million compared to the same month of the previous year.

One of the issues of economic theory is applying theory to practice. But the expected J-Curve improvement in the trade balance has collided with another currency plunge starting the clock all over again. It has created quite a mess as one clear impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has been on a strength for Turkey which is tourism. Back on October the 12th I noted the numbers for this.

 If we look at the year so far we see this is confirmed by a surplus of US $4.15 billion as opposed to one of US $19.17 billion in the same period in 2019. Another way of looking at this is that 3,225,033 visitors are recorded as opposed to 13,349,256 last year.

Next at a time of currency crisis comes inflation as imports become more expensive.

A rise in general index was realized in CPI (2003=100) on the previous month by 2.13%, on December of the previous year by 10.64%, on same month of the previous year by 11.89% and on the twelve months moving averages basis by 11.74% in October 2020. ( Turkey Statistics)

That may look bad enough but there are two additional kickers. The first is that this is on the back of previous inflation and the second is that far from responding wages have gone the other way putting quite a squeeze on living-standards.

Gross wages-salaries index including industry, construction, trade-services sectors decreased by 8.4% in the second quarter of 2020 compared with the same quarter of the previous year. When sub-sectors are examined; industrial sector decreased by 5.2%, construction sector decreased by 8.6% and trade-services sector decreased by 10.5%. ( Turkey Statistics)

Comment

I promised at the beginning to give some perspective and we get some from looking at the exchange-rate on October 12th which was 7.87 versus the US Dollar and considered a crisis then and the 7.67 as I type this. So better but not by a lot as the rally memes are compared to the 8.58 of last Friday. Thus we have a move for financial markets but for the real economy not so much. It can be looked at in terms of what used to be described as the Misery Index where you add inflation to the unemployment rate which gives you a number around 25% or very bad.

The CBRT looks to have rather boxed itself in on an increase in interest-rates to 15% next week. But whilst it may provide some currency support for a time these are Catch-22 style moves. Because such an interest-rate will provide yet another brake to the domestic economy just at a time it can least afford it. After all whilst a vaccine provides hope for the return of mass tourism in the summer of 2021 that is a while away and is still just a hope, albeit a welcome one. Then there is the vaccine hopium of this week as we mull how much of this week’s Lira rise was due to it?

 

 

The soaring price of shares in the Swiss National Bank poses many questions

We find ourselves today looking at a country which exhibits many of the economic themes of these times and one of them is brought to mind by this from the fastFT twitter feed.

US 10-year bond yields creep further towards 3% milestone

The fact that the 10-year Treasury Note yield is 2.99% is part of what is called “normalisation” of interest-rates and bond yields, although care is needed as we have been here before. But my subject of today can say the equivalent of “bah humbug” to this as it has a 10-year yield of a mere 0.13%. If we look back and take a broad sweep it has had this yield averaging around 0% for the past five years with a low of -0.6%. In fact Switzerland can still borrow out to the 8 year maturity and be paid for doing so as its yields are negative out to their. So the old normal remains a distant dream ( or nightmare depending on your perspective) and let me throw in a thought. There are arguments you should use such times to borrow and invest but the Swiss have pretty much set their face against this.

The Confederation wants to ensure room for manoeuvre for future generations by means of a sustainable fiscal policy. It has been pursuing a strategy of a balanced budget in the medium-term and a low level of debt since the start of 2000…………Thanks to the debt brake, it has been possible to considerably reduce federal debt ( Department of Finance February 2nd 2018).

According to the OECD it has a national debt of just under 43% of annual GDP. Of course there is a virtuous circle between bond yields and fiscal surpluses but for these times Switzerland is rather abnormal to say the least.

Negative Interest-Rates

The Swiss National Bank has contributed to the above via this.

Interest on sight deposits at the SNB is to remain at –0.75% and the target range for the three-month Libor is
unchanged at between –1.25% and –0.25%.

Money rates are at -0.73% if you want precision and as Swiss Banks have some 573 billion Swiss France deposited at the SNB there will be an icy chill felt although of course the SNB did take measures to protect the “precious”. Nonetheless there is a cost. From Reuters.

Swiss banks paid 970 million Swiss francs ($1 billion) in negative interest rate charges in the first six months of 2017, according to central bank data, up 40 percent year-on-year as clients continue to hoard cash.

Interesting isn’t it that so far ( and we have over 3 years now) there has been little impact on cash holdings? We learn a little more about negative interest-rates from this as there does not seem to be much of an adjustment so far.

Boom!

Last week saw what was quite an event. From Reuters.

The Swiss franc fell to a three-year low of 1.20 against the euro on Thursday as a revival in risk appetite encouraged investors to use it to buy higher yielding assets elsewhere, betting on loose monetary policy keeping the currency weak.

This took us back to January 15th 2015 when this happened.

The Swiss National Bank (SNB) has decided to discontinue the minimum exchange rate of CHF 1.20 per euro with immediate effect and to cease foreign currency purchases associated with enforcing it.

This was how interest-rates were reduced to -0.75% as the previous policy of “unlimited intervention” fell to earth. It was not that the SNB was running out of reserves as when you intervene against a strong currency you are selling something you do have an unlimited supply of at least in theoretical terms. But it was a combination of the scale of interventions  required and the side-effects and consequences which in this instance broke the bank policy.

As ever a move in interest-rates of 0.5% was in currency terms like putting a Band-Aid on a broken leg and the Swiss Franc surged.

; in midMarch 2015 it was at CHF 1.06 per euro, constituting a 12% appreciation against the minimum exchange rate of CHF 1.20 per euro in place until mid-January. ( SNB)

For newer readers wondering why the Swiss Franc was so strong it had been kicked-off by the reversal of the Carry Trade. If you look back in time on here you will see analysis of what I called the Currency Twins of the Swissy and the Japanese Yen who were affected by enormous levels of foreign borrowing pre credit crunch. This strengthened those two currencies after the credit crunch as some rushed to get out and of course the currency markets noted that at least some were desperate to get out.

This had a substantial human cost as many mortgage and business borrowers in Eastern Europe had taken advantage of low interest-rates in the Swiss Franc. They then faced surging monthly repayments when they were converted into the currency in which they had an income and quite a crisis was started. Of course doing such a thing was stupid but care is needed as whilst you should be responsible for your own actions it is also true that the banking sector did its best to miss lead on this issue and hide the risks faced.

Hedge Fund

On the road to the 15th of January 2015 the Swiss National Bank built up an extraordinary amount of foreign exchange reserves. In fact since there it has also intervened from time to time but on a much more minor scale.

The SNB will remain active in the foreign
exchange market as necessary, while taking the overall currency situation into consideration.

Which according to the 2017 annual report has led to this.

The level of currency reserves has risen by more than
CHF 700 billion to almost CHF 800 billion since the onset of the financial and debt crisis in 2008. The increase is largely due to foreign currency purchases aimed at curbing the appreciation of the Swiss franc.

Which has led to this as I pointed out on the 15th of March.

The majority of the SNB’s foreign currency investments are in government bonds, bonds issued by foreign local authorities (e.g. provinces and municipalities) and supranational organisations, as well as corporate bonds, or are placed at other central banks. The proportion of equities is one-fifth. Two-fifths of the foreign currency investments are denominated in euros, and more than one-third in US dollars. Other important investment currencies are the pound sterling, yen and Canadian dollar.

It has become rather a large hedge fund as we note the diversification into equities. Also we get a hint of why Euro area bonds have done so well as not only has the ECB been buying via its QE program so has the Swiss National Bank. A rally driven by competing central banks?

Comment

There is a lot to consider here as for example if we start with an international perspective what will happen to equities if the Swiss National Bank should stop buying and start selling? The bellweather of this is Apple where according to NASDAQ it owned some 19.1 million shares at the end of 2017. Care is needed as we are just below the 1.20 level and the SNB intervened at considerably worse levels but it could decide to reverse course soon at least in part unless of course it is singing along to the ladies of En Vogue.

Hold me tight and don’t let go
Don’t let go
You have the right to lose control
Don’t let go

Don’t let go
Don’t let go

Meanwhile staying with the theme of equities there is the ongoing issue of shares in the Swiss National Bank itself.

This has led to quite a lot of speculation that one day the private shareholders might get a share so to speak. This is how it looked back in October.

Less than a month after its stock smashed through the 3,000-franc-a-share barrier, SNB shares hit an intraday high of 4,324 on Wednesday and were trading as high as 4,600 on Thursday. The stock has tripled in value from a year ago, repeatedly confounding market watchers by regularly hitting records.

It is now 8380 Swiss Francs according to Bloomberg. Should shares in a central bank be doing this? The answer is clearly no as we mull a central bank which is partly privately owned.

Moving back to Switzerland I note many are calling this a success for the SNB. Odd isn’t it that this way round the counterfactuals that many are so keen on when things go wrong for central banks seem to get lost in a fog of amnesia? The truth is we do not know as currency trends ebb and flow but there is of course another factor. Any economic slow down would start currently with interest-rates at -0.75% posing the question of what would happen next? Perhaps they will run into Korean Won. From February.

The swap agreement enables Korean won and Swiss francs to be purchased and repurchased between the two central banks, up to a limit of KRW 11.2 trillion, or CHF 10 billion.