Bitter pills: Erdogan’s possible remedies for Turkey crisis

There are some possible fixes, but Erdogan will have to swallow a very bitter pill. (Presidential Press Service via AP, Pool)
Updated 19 August 2018
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Bitter pills: Erdogan’s possible remedies for Turkey crisis

  • The lira closed a volatile week of trading at just over six to the dollar
  • Even before the crisis broke, economists were urging Turkey to raise interest rates sharply

ISTANBUL: The crash in the Turkish lira sparked by US sanctions has left President Recep Tayyip Erdogan facing the biggest economic challenge of his one-and-a-half decades in power.
The lira has recently clawed back some of its losses, but economists say Turkey still urgently needs to address imbalances in its economy and avert a full-blown crisis.
The fragility of the currency was highlighted again on Friday when Standard and Poor’s and Moody’s both downgraded Turkey’s debt ratings within hours of each other.
The lira closed a volatile week of trading at just over six to the dollar, off the lows of over seven earlier in the week, but still sharply down from the start of the month, when it had been changing hands at under five to the dollar.
Economists say Turkey must act to prevent risks spreading to the European and even global economies.
Erdogan has a number of mechanisms at his disposal. But they could prove bitter pills for the Turkish strongman to swallow.
Even before the crisis broke, economists were urging Turkey to raise interest rates sharply to prop up the lira and rein in inflation.
But Erdogan — who sees his overriding priority as boosting growth — adamantly refuses, with economists worried that the nominally independent central bank is firmly under his control.
With its hands apparently tied when it comes to raising the headline borrowing rate, the central bank has provided banks with more liquidity, while also quietly using a mechanism that allows de-facto rate increases on a day-to-day basis.
William Jackson, economist at Capital Economics in London, said that while “the sense of acute crisis” had faded, “policymakers only really seem to have done the minimum needed.”
Financial markets are also skeptical about Erdogan’s ability to resolve the current crisis, especially after he named his son-in-law Berat Albayrak as finance minister last month.
Erdogan’s unorthodox beliefs have not helped, with the president repeatedly baffling markets by suggesting that low interest rates are needed to bring down inflation.
Moody’s said Turkey lacked a “clear and credible plan” to deal with the challenges while S&P said the response from Ankara so far had been “limited” despite the mounting risks.
Albayrak on Friday insisted that bringing down inflation was a priority for Turkey. But markets want to see actions rather than words.
“Turkey’s economic crisis is far from over,” said Mujtaba Rahman, managing director for Europe at Eurasia Group, calling for a “credible program of fiscal consolidation and economic reform.”
Economists have long warned that Turkey’s high inflation, widening current account deficit and vulnerable banking sector harbored risks.
Nevertheless, the immediate cause of the current crisis is the detention for almost two years of US pastor Andrew Brunson and the ensuing sanctions from Washington that have sent the lira into a tailspin.
One immediate way out of the crisis would be to release Brunson from his house arrest. But this is far from certain, with Turkey noisily asserting the independence of its judiciary.
Another way could be to defuse the tensions with Europe that have mounted since the failed 2016 coup, and focus instead on the joint opposition to Washington’s unilateral trade measures.
The last week saw the surprise releases of two Greek soldiers held for around six months and the Turkey chair of Amnesty International held for over a year, moves bound to gladden Brussels.
These releases “were not a coincidence,” commented a European diplomat, asking not to be named.
In such a situation, the logical move for many countries would be to turn to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for help. But Washington may not be too keen.
And this also appears to be a red line for Erdogan, too, who has repeatedly boasted that Turkey managed to clear all of its debts to the IMF by 2013.
Albayrak said Thursday that Turkey was not in contact with the IMF over a bailout and said Ankara was looking to attract new investments instead.
After hosting his ally the emir of Qatar earlier this week, Erdogan secured a pledge for some $15 billion of investment from the gas-rich emirate.
But according to Berenberg Bank economist, Holger Schmieding, the Turkish economy, the world’s 17th biggest, is far too important to be kept afloat with relatively small amounts of foreign money.
Many economists say that in the short term the most likely course for Turkey will be to try and weather the crisis without resorting to rate hikes, major political concessions or radical economic reform.
The central bank’s attempts last week to prop up the lira suggest it is trying micro-manage the crisis rather than find more comprehensive solutions.
Jackson at Capital Economics said “policymakers will try to muddle through with a more heterodox approach for as long as possible,” forecasting the lira faced further declines in 2019 and beyond.


US in criminal probe of China's Huawei

Updated 17 January 2019
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US in criminal probe of China's Huawei

  • The Wall Street Journal said the US justice department is looking into allegations of theft of trade secrets from Huawei's US business partners
  • Huawei forcefully denied accusations that his firm engaged in espionage on behalf of the Chinese government

WASHINGTON: US authorities are in the "advanced" stages of a criminal probe that could result in an indictment of Chinese technology giant Huawei, a report said Wednesday.
The Wall Street Journal, citing anonymous sources, said the Department of Justice is looking into allegations of theft of trade secrets from Huawei's US business partners, including a T-Mobile robotic device used to test smartphones.
Huawei and the Department of Justice declined to comment on the media report.
However, Huawei noted that "Huawei and T-Mobile settled their disputes in 2017 following a US jury verdict finding neither damage, unjust enrichment nor willful and malicious conduct by Huawei in T-Mobile's trade secret claim."
The move would further escalate tensions between the US and China after the arrest last year in Canada of Huawei's chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou, who is the daughter of the company founder.
The case of Meng, under house arrest awaiting proceedings, has inflamed US-China and Canada-China relations.
Two Canadians have been detained in China since Meng's arrest and a third has been sentenced to death on drug trafficking charges -- moves observers see as attempts by Beijing to pressure Ottawa over her case.
Huawei, the second-largest global smartphone maker and biggest producer of telecommunications equipment, has for years been under scrutiny in the US over purported links to the Chinese government.
Huawei's reclusive founder Ren Zhengfei, in a rare media interview Tuesday, forcefully denied accusations that his firm engaged in espionage on behalf of the Chinese government.
The tensions come amid a backdrop of President Donald Trump's efforts to get more manufacturing on US soil and slap hefty tariffs on Chinese goods for what he claims are unfair trade practices by Beijing.
In a related move, lawmakers introduced a bill to ban the export of American parts and components to Chinese telecom companies that are in violation of US export control or sanctions laws -- with Huawei and fellow Chinese firm ZTE the likely targets.
"Huawei is effectively an intelligence-gathering arm of the Chinese Communist Party whose founder and CEO was an engineer for the People's Liberation Army," said Republican Senator Tom Cotton, one of the bill's sponsors.
Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen said in the same statement: "Huawei and ZTE are two sides of the same coin. Both companies have repeatedly violated US laws, represent a significant risk to American national security interests and need to be held accountable."
Last year, Trump reached a deal with ZTE that eases tough financial penalties on the firm for helping Iran and North Korea evade American sanctions.
Trump said his decision in May to spare ZTE came following an appeal by Chinese President Xi Jinping to help save Chinese jobs.