Turkey inflation rate eases but still stubbornly high in December

Economists forecast that double-digit core inflation would persist throughout the first half of 2018. (AFP)
Updated 03 January 2018
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Turkey inflation rate eases but still stubbornly high in December

ANKARA: Inflation in Turkey eased slightly in December after reaching the highest rate in 14 years the month earlier, but remained stubbornly high at almost 12 percent, in a continued headache for policymakers, according to statistics released Wednesday.
Consumer prices rose by 11.92 percent year-on-year in December, the Turkish statistical institute said, down slightly from 12.98 percent in November, which was the highest annual rate recorded since 2003.
On a month-on-month basis, inflation stood at 0.69 percent in December from November, with the biggest price hikes seen in transportation, while clothing prices declined.
The Turkish central bank’s official inflation target is an annual rate of five percent, but double-digit data over the last months have made a mockery of this.
Nevertheless, the bank has been unwilling to make any substantial rate hikes to combat inflation, as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is wary that raising borrowing costs could put the brakes on growth.
Economists at QNB Finansbank in Istanbul said the December reading of 11.92 percent was the highest year-end figure since 2003.
They forecast that double-digit core inflation would persist throughout the first half of 2018 and could take longer to fall if the lira stayed weak.
“We think inflation will continue to ease over the coming months,” added William Jackson, economist at Capital Economics in London, arguing the latest reading would take some pressure off the central bank for further tightening.
“Even so, headline inflation is likely to remain in double digits until late this year,” Jackson said in a note to clients.
Erdogan has built his popularity on solid stewardship of the economy in the wake of Turkey’s devastating 2000-2001 financial crisis. Any signs of economic weakness would be a bad omen for the Turkish strongman as he prepares for 2019 elections.
Turkey notched up impressive growth of 11.1 percent in the third quarter, but economists warn this masks growing risk factors, such as inflation and a high current account deficit.


At Jordan border, Damascus seeks to revive trade

Updated 21 October 2018
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At Jordan border, Damascus seeks to revive trade

  • The government of President Bashar Assad took back control of the Nassib border post in July
  • By reopening a key land crossing with Jordan this month, the Syrian regime is inching toward a return to trade with the wider region

BEIRUT: By reopening a key land crossing with Jordan this month, the Syrian regime is inching toward a return to trade with the wider region as it looks to boost its war-ravaged economy.
The government of President Bashar Assad took back control of the Nassib border post in July from rebels as part of a military offensive that reclaimed swathes of the south of the country.
Syria’s international trade has plummeted during the seven-year civil war, and its foreign reserves have been almost depleted.
The reopening of Nassib after a three-year hiatus, on Oct. 15, is a political victory for the Damascus regime, said Sam Heller of the International Crisis Group.
It is “a step toward reintegrating with Syria’s surroundings economically and recapturing the country’s traditional role as a conduit for regional trade,” he said.
The Nassib crossing reopens a direct land route between Syria and Jordan, but also a passage via its southern neighbor to Iraq to the east, and the Gulf to the south.
“For the Syrian government, reopening Nassib is a step toward normalization with Jordan and the broader region, and a blow to US-led attempts to isolate Damascus,” Heller said.
International pressure and numerous rounds of peace talks have failed to stem the fighting in Syria, and seven years in the regime has gained the military upper hand in the conflict.
Assad’s forces now control nearly two-thirds of the country, after a series of Russia-backed offensives against rebels.

 

Syria faces a mammoth task to revive its battered economy.
The country’s exports plummeted by more than 90 percent in the first four years of the conflict alone, from $7.9 billion to $631 million, according to a World Bank report last year.
The Syria Report, an economic weekly, said Nassib’s reopening would reconnect Syria with an “important market” in the Gulf.
But, it warned, “it is unlikely Syrian exports will recover anywhere close to the 2011 levels in the short and medium terms because the country’s production capacity has been largely destroyed.”
For now, at least, Nassib’s reopening is good news for Syrian tradesmen forced into costlier, lengthier maritime shipping since 2015.
Among them, Syrian businessman Farouk Joud was looking forward to being able to finally import goods from Jordan and the UAE via land.
Before 2015, “it would take a maximum of three days for us to receive goods, but via the sea it takes a whole month,” he told AFP.
Importing goods until recently has involved a circuitous maritime route from the Jordanian port of Aqaba via the Suez Canal, and up to a regime-held port in the northwest of the country.
“It costs twice as much as land transport via Nassib,” Joud said.
Syrian parliament member Hadi Sharaf was equally enthusiastic about fresh opportunities for Syrian exports.
“Exporting (fruit and) vegetables will have a positive economic impact, especially for much-demanded citrus fruit to Iraq,” he told AFP.
Before Syria’s war broke out in 2011, neighboring Iraq was the first destination of Syria’s non-oil exports.
The parliamentarian also hoped the revived trade route on Syria’s southern border would swell state coffers with much-needed dollars.
Before the conflict, the Nassib crossing raked in $2 million in customs fees, Sharaf said.
Last month, Syria’s Prime Minister Imad Khamis said fees at Nassib for a four-ton truck had been increased from $10 to $62.
Syria’s foreign reserves have been almost depleted due to the drop in oil exports, loss of tourism revenues and sanctions, the World Bank said.
And the local currency has lost around 90 percent of its value since the start of the war.
Lebanese businessmen are also delighted, as they can now reach other countries in the region by sending lorries through Syria and its southern border crossing.
Lebanon’s farmers “used to export more than 70 percent of their produce to Arab countries via this strategic crossing,” said Bechara Al-Asmar, head of Lebanon’s labor union.
Despite recent victories, Damascus still controls only half of the 19 crossings along Syria’s lengthy borders with Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey.
Damascus and Baghdad have said the Albukamal crossing with Iraq in eastern Syria will open soon, but did not give a specific date.
Beyond trade, there is even hope that the Nassib crossing reopening might bring some tourists back to Syria.
A Jordanian travel agency recently posted on Facebook that it was organizing daily trips to the Syrian capital by “safe and air-conditioned” bus from Monday.
“Who among us doesn’t miss the good old days in Syria?” it said.

FACTOID

BACKGROUND

Syria’s foreign reserves have been almost depleted owing to the drop in oil exports, loss of tourism revenues and sanctions, while the local currency has lost around 90 percent of its value since the start of the war in 2011.