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 Central Bank of Turkey has voted for Christmas

Back on the 3rd of May I pointed out that yet another feature of economics 101 was not working these days. Here was my response to interest-rate rises from the central bank of Argentina or BCRA.

This is perhaps the most common response and in my view it is the most flawed. The problem is twofold. Firstly you can end up chasing you own tail like a dog. What I mean by this is that markets can expect more interest-rate rises each time the currency falls and usually that is exactly what it does next. Why is this? Well if anticipating a 27,25%% return on your money is not doing the job is 30.25% going to do it?

Since then the BCRA  has indeed ended up chasing its own tail like a dog, as interest-rates are now an eye watering 60%. But the sequence of rises has been accompanied by further currency falls, as back then an exchange rate to the US Dollar of 21/22 ( it was a volatile day) has been replaced by 39.4. To my mind this has been influenced by the second factor I looked at back in May.

Next comes the way that markets discount this in terms of forward exchange rates which now will factor in the higher interest-rate by lowering the forward price of the Peso. So against the US Dollar it will be of the order of 28% lower in a year’s time so the expected return in each currency is equal. This should not matter but human psychology and nature intervene and it turns out often to matter and helps the currency lower which of course is exactly the wrong result.

Right now the forward price of the Argentine Peso will be heavily discounted by the 60% interest-rate. At least the Argentines got some welcome good news on the rugby front on Saturday when they beat Australia. Although they currently seem unable to avoid bad news for long.

The Argentine peso has lost more than half its value, but U2 frontman Bono is advocating for the economic well-being of the Argentine people  ( Bloomberg ).

Turkey

As you can imagine the announcement below on the 3rd of this month from the Turkish central bank or CBRT made me mull the thoughts above.

monetary stance will be adjusted at the September Monetary Policy Committee Meeting in view of the latest developments.

On the day itself ( last Thursday) the water got very muddy for a while as President Erdogan again made a case for low interest-rates. He apparently has a theory that high interest-rates create high inflation. But the CBRT is not a believer in that.

The Monetary Policy Committee (the Committee) has decided to increase the policy rate (one week repo auction rate) from 17.75 percent to 24 percent.

The consensus was that this was a good idea as highlighted by the economist Timothy Ash.

Turkey – huge move by the CBRT, doing 625bps, taking the base rate to 24%. Respect. Difficult decision set against huge political pressure, but the right should set a floor, and gives the lira and Turkish assets, banks etc a chance.

I have more than a few doubts about that. The simplest is what calculations bring you to a 6.25% rise, or was it plucked out of thin air?  Added to that is the concept of a floor and giving the currency and banks a chance. Really? The words of Newt from the film Aliens comes to mind.

It wont make any difference

Initially the Turkish Lira did respond with a bounce. It rallied to around 6.1 versus the US Dollar on the day and then pushed higher to 6.01 on Friday. In response I tweeted this.

In the case of Argentina the half-life of the currency rally was 24 hours at best….

So as I checked the situation this morning I had a wry smile as I noted the Lira had weakened to 6.26 versus the US Dollar. I also note that the coverage in the Financial Times had someone who agrees with me albeit perhaps by a different route.

But Cristian Maggio, EM strategist at TD Securities, said the central bank did not go far enough, because inflation was likely to rise beyond 20 per cent, and “higher inflation will require even higher rates”.

On the day some speculators will have got their fingers singed as the comments from President Erdogan sent the currency weaker at first, so following that the CBRT move whip sawed them. If that was a tactical plan it succeeded, but that is very different to calling this a strategic success.

Another issue is that the currency may well be even more volatile looking forwards. This is because holding a short position versus the US Dollar has a negative carry of 22% or so and against the Euro has one of 24% or so. Thus there will be a tendency to hold the Turkish Lira for the carry and then to jump out ahead of any possible bad news. The problem with that is not everyone can jump out at once! Any falls will lead to a mass exodus or panic and we know from the experience of past carry trades that the subsequent moves are often large ones.

Foreign Debt

Brad Setser has crunched the numbers on this.

Turkey has about $180 billion external debt coming due, according to the latest central bank data. And most of that is denominated in foreign currency. The Central Bank of Turkey’s foreign exchange reserves are now just over $75 billion, and the banks may have about $25 billion (or a bit less now) in foreign exchange of their own. I left out Turkey’s gold reserves, in part because they are in large part borrowed from the banks and unlikely to be usable.

The total external debt is now a bit over US $450 billion. Very little of that is the government itself although the state banks are responsible for some of it. The problem is thus one for the private-sector and the banks.

How this plays out is very hard to forecast as we do not know how many companies will not be able to pay, and how much of a domino effect that would have on other companies. Also we can be sure that both the government and CBRT will be looking to support such firms, but we can also be sure that they do not have the firepower to support all of them! This is another factor making things very volatile.

The domestic economy

There are a lot of factors at play here but let me open by linking this to the foreign debt. If we look back we would also be adding a current account deficit to the problems above but this is getting much smaller and may soon disappear. From the third of this month.

Turkey’s foreign trade deficit in August fell 58 percent on a yearly basis, according to the trade ministry’s preliminary data on Sept 1.

There should be a boost for exports which will help some but so far the main player has been a fall in imports which were 22.4% lower in the merchandise trade figures above. So a real squeeze is being applied to the economy which the GDP figures will initially record as a boost, as imports are a subtraction from GDP. So they will throw a curve ball as the situation declines.

Added to that is this which was before the latest interest-rate rise.

Switching to a year on year basis the impact so far of this new credit crunch is around three-quarters of the 2008/09 one. The new higher official interest-rate seems set to put this under further pressure as the banks tend to borrow short ( which is now much more expensive) and lend long ( which will remain relatively cheap for a while).

Comment

A major problem in this sort of scenario was explained by Carole King some years ago.

But it’s too late, baby, now it’s too late
Though we really did try to make it
Something inside has died and I can’t hide
And I just can’t fake it, Oh no no no no no

Regular readers will be aware that it is in my opinion as important when you move interest-rates as what you do. Sadly that particular boat sailed some time ago for Turkey ( and Argentina) and macho style responses that are too late may only compound the problem. Or as the CBRT release puts it.

slowdown in domestic demand accelerates

It must be a very grim time for workers and consumers in Turkey so let me end by wishing them all the best in what are hard times as well as a little humour for hard times.