Turkey’s Albayrak says central bank independent, sees no crisis in banking sector

Turkish Treasury and Finance Minister Berat Albayrak says dispute with US not benefiting ‘US state or people.’ (Yasin AKGUL/File/AFP)
Updated 03 September 2018
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Turkey’s Albayrak says central bank independent, sees no crisis in banking sector

  • Berat Albayrak said he did not expect any problems in the banking sector
  • The lira has fallen some 40 percent against the dollar so far this year

ISTANBUL: Turkey’s central bank is independent of government and will take all necessary steps to combat inflation, Finance Minister Berat Albayrak told Reuters, defending an institution that has not raised its benchmark rate in nearly three months despite a currency crisis.
Albayrak also said he did not expect any problems in the banking sector, in stark contrast to recent warnings from ratings agencies that the lira sell-off could weaken lenders’ assets. In the event of a problem at banks, Ankara would be willing to step in with support, he said.
The lira has fallen some 40 percent against the dollar so far this year, hit by concerns about President Tayyip Erdogan’s control over monetary policy and a worsening diplomatic rift with the United States.
Economists say the central bank needs to hike rates decisively to rein in double-digit inflation and support the currency. Erdogan, a self-described “enemy of interest rates,” wants low rates to keep a credit-fueled growth boom going.
“The central bank in Turkey has been maybe more independent than those in other countries,” Albayrak, Erdogan’s son-in-law, said in an interview at a 19th century mansion overlooking the Bosphorus in Istanbul. The bank will take steps “to continue this independence,” he said.
Turkey has reached a point where it requires a “full-fledged fight against inflation,” Albayrak said.
The central bank, which holds its next meeting on Sept. 13, said on Monday it will adjust its monetary stance given “significant risks” to price stability, a rare move to calm markets after inflation surged to its highest in nearly fifteen years.
At its last meeting in July, the central bank left rates on hold, confounding market expectations and sending the lira sharply weaker.
It plunged as low as 7.24 to the dollar in mid-August. On Monday it traded at 6.62 at 1109 GMT, around 1 pct weaker on the day.
Albayrak’s appointment two months ago as treasury and finance minister has cemented the perception that the economy and monetary policy are now fully under Erdogan’s control.
Christian pastor
Albayrak was visiting London on Monday for talks with Britain’s finance minister Philip Hammond, part of Turkey’s efforts to strengthen relations with Europe’s main economic powers as a dispute with Washington shows no sign of easing. He was in Paris last week and will go to Germany next week.
Relations with the United States, a NATO ally and major trading partner, have soured over a series of issues including Turkey’s detention of an American Christian pastor on terrorism charges and the US sentencing of an executive from Turkish state bank Halkbank for busting sanctions on Iran.
Adding to the friction, the US Treasury is investigating Halkbank for violating Iran sanctions. The bank has said all of its transactions were legal.
Turkey hired a US law firm to look into Halkbank’s dealings with Iran and found that it did not violate US sanctions, Albayrak said, adding Ankara does not expect the bank to face any fine.
“As a result of a months-long independent examination, it has been established that the bank had not violated primary and secondary US sanctions against Iran,” he said.
Referring to Turkey’s wider dispute with the United States, Albayrak said Washington had taken it to a point that did not benefit “the US state or people.”
Bad debt
For years, Turkish firms have borrowed in dollars and euros, drawn by lower interest rates. The currency slump has driven up the cost of servicing that debt and investors fear that banks could now be hit by a wave of bad loans.
Around $179 billion of Turkey’s external debt matures in the year to July 2019, according to JPMorgan estimates. Most of that — around $146 billion — is owed by the private sector.
Ratings agencies Moody’s and Fitch both sounded alarm about the outlook for banks last week, with Fitch estimating that banks’ foreign-currency lending now stood at around 43 percent of all loans.
“I have no reason to be worried at this stage. But we are aware how important the banking sector is. We are in a close coordination and cooperation with our banks and the (banking watchdog) BDDK,” Albayrak said.
“We are not expecting any problems in the banking sector, but in case of a problem, we will support them in every way.”
He also dismissed concerns about debt, including in the private sector. He said the current account deficit will be “considerably below” forecasts by year-end and “much stronger” in 2019. (Additional reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu, Ece Toksabay and Humeyra Pamuk; Writing by David Dolan and Dominic Evans; Editing by Toby Chopra)


German economy contracts on weak foreign trade, auto bottleneck

Updated 14 November 2018
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German economy contracts on weak foreign trade, auto bottleneck

  • The third-quarter dip in GDP was the first time the economy has contracted since the first quarter of 2015
  • Investors do not expect the German economy to recover rapidly from a weak patch in the third quarter

BERLIN: The German economy contracted for the first time since 2015 in the third quarter as global trade disputes swung the traditional export growth engine of Europe’s largest economy into reverse, raising concerns that a near-decade-long expansion is faltering.
Gross domestic product (GDP) in Europe’s biggest economy contracted by 0.2 percent quarter-on-quarter, the Federal Statistics Office said on Wednesday. That compared with a Reuters forecast for a contraction of 0.1 percent.
Compared with the same quarter of the previous year, the economy grew by 1.1 percent from July to September, calendar-adjusted data showed. Analysts polled by Reuters had expected 1.3 percent.
“The slight decline in GDP compared to the previous quarter was mainly due to foreign trade developments: provisional calculations show there were fewer exports but more imports in the third quarter than in the second,” the Office said.
The third-quarter dip in GDP was the first time the economy has contracted since the first quarter of 2015.
The government had flagged a weaker third quarter last month, citing bottlenecks in the car sector stemming from the introduction of new pollution standards known as WLTP as a factor.
“Germany doesn’t have an economic problem but rather an auto sector problem. Due to the sluggish certification of cars, car production had to be noticeably reduced, with collateral damage for other sectors too,” said Andreas Scheuerle at DekaBank.
However, the ZEW research institute said on Tuesday that investors do not expect the German economy to recover rapidly from a weak patch in the third quarter.
Concerns are growing in the German economy, which is in its ninth year of expansion, about the impact of global trade disputes and Britain’s departure from the European Union.
In addition to angst about the impact of US President Donald Trump’s abrasive trade policy, German firms are concerned about instability at home where Chancellor Angela Merkel’s awkward ‘grand coalition’ has come close to collapsing twice.
Carsten Brzeski, an economist at ING, said that even though he expected the auto sector to rebound in the fourth quarter, the GDP figures for the July-September period were a “wake-up call that political stability and strong growth are by no means a given.”
“The poor export performance, despite a weak euro exchange rate, suggests that trade tensions and weaknesses in emerging markets could continue to weigh on Germany’s growth performance,” he said in a research note.
Last month, Germany’s DIHK Chambers of Industry and Commerce cut its 2018 growth forecast to 1.8 percent from 2.2 percent and predicted a slowdown to 1.7 percent next year as the economy faces mounting risks at home and abroad.