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Turkey sets out tough economic path in policy turnaround

By News Desk
September 08, 2023

ANKARA: Turkey jacked up its inflation forecasts and cut those of economic growth on Wednesday, as President Tayyip Erdogan appeared to endorse the big interest rate hikes that are driving a turnaround toward more orthodox policies.

Since the policy U-turn began in June, analysts have applauded what they said was a more realistic effort to address years of soaring inflation, but cautioned that the short-term economic pain could test Erdogan’s patience.

The government said it sees annual inflation rising to 65 percent by yearend before dipping to 33 percent next year, up from 24.9 percent and 13.8 percent respectively in forecasts it published a year ago. It trimmed GDP growth forecasts to 4.4 percent this year and 4 percent next year - which is still higher than most economists expect - from 5 percent and 5.5 percent previously. The current account deficit is expected to be $42.5 billion in 2023 and $34.7 billion in 2024.

The forecast in Ankara’s annual “medium-term programme” is seen as a milestone in a broader policy U-turn that began in June when Erdogan named a new cabinet and central bank chief.

The central bank has since aggressively hiked rates to 25 percent from 8.5 percent. “With the support of tight monetary policy, we will bring down inflation to single digits again and improve the current account balance,” Erdogan said in presenting the programme.

“We will definitely not compromise on economic growth during the period of this programme,” he said. The comment marks a rhetorical pivot for Erdogan, who for years had openly opposed high rates on the unorthodox grounds that they stoke inflation, and who once described himself as an “enemy” of interest rates.

But after his May re-election, Erdogan - faced with deep economic strains and badly depleted forex reserves - named Finance Minister Mehmet Simsek and Central Bank Governor Hafize Gaye Erkan to start hiking rates and begin freeing up credit and forex markets.

The lira has since shed 25 percent and, largely due to this depreciation, annual inflation jumped to near 59 percent last month. The currency was stable at 26.8175 to the dollar at 1302 GMT.

The programme’s GDP forecasts imply Ankara predicts the lira will trade on average around 23.9 this year and 36.8 next year. The economy is expected to slow through year-end - and ahead of nationwide municipal elections set for March next year - as stimulus tied to the May elections fades and as the 1,650 basis-points in rate hikes start to weigh.

A Reuters poll last month showed expectations of 2.9 percent full-year growth, lower than trend in the emerging market economy that seeks to reverse a years-long exodus of foreign investors.

With Erdogan’s ruling AK Party seeking to reclaim big cities Istanbul and Ankara from the opposition in the March vote, some analysts say higher inflation and unemployment and lower growth could test the president’s patience with the U-turn.

Erdogan has fired four central bank governors in four years. His past push to slash rates despite rising prices led to a historic currency crash in late 2021 and sent inflation to a peak above 85 percent last year. “The risk is ever-present that...Erdogan could lose patience,” said Commerzbank analyst Tatha Ghose. Inflation will “be very high for an extended period of time, which will trigger second-round effects such as wage settlements.”

Meanwhile, Moody’s has signalled that Turkey’s reembrace of conventional economic policymaking since Erdogan’s May election win could soon start paying dividends in terms of a stronger credit rating, as long as it sticks with it.

Ankara’s credit score, which affects how much the government pays to borrow on capital markets, has been in decline for years due to repeated episodes of unorthodox policy-drivencrises.

The screeching change of policy direction since the election though has seen Erdogan bring in a new finance minister and central bank head who have dramatically raised interest rates in a bid to tackle the country’s long-term inflation problem.

“The change of course is clearly credit positive,” Moody’s analyst Dietmar Hornung told Reuters. “But there are still significant uncertainties.” Moody’s rates Turkey a ‘junk’ grade B3 with a “stable outlook”. It is not due to formally review its rating until December, but Fitch which rates the country a notch lower and has a “negative outlook” is due to review its rating on Friday, followed by S&P Global later in the month.

“The moves we have seen since the election are encouraging but the challenges ahead are complex,” Hornung said, explaining that cooling inflation expected to rise to 65 percent this year, and unpicking other “accumulated imbalances”, was a tough task. “We have a stable outlook on the rating, we don’t see any significant downside risks, but it will take time to see the positive effects of the changes” On the possible timing of any rating move, either a move to a positive outlook or a full upgrade, Hornung said: “It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.” “We need a track record of more orthodox policy and a reduction of the accumulated imbalances.”