Virus threatens fragile Turkish economy

The coronavirus pandemic has affected major economies in the world. (File/Reuters)
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Updated 31 March 2020

Virus threatens fragile Turkish economy

  • The death toll in Turkey is 168 with 10,827 recorded cases of the virus but the fear is that the situation could get much worse
  • President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced earlier this month a $15 billion package to support the economy

ANKARA: The Turkish economy was healing after a recession when the new coronavirus struck, leaving Ankara scrambling to contain the damage with stimulus measures worth billions and facing demands to do much more.
The death toll in Turkey is 168 with 10,827 recorded cases of the virus but the fear is that the situation could get much worse.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced earlier this month a $15 billion package to support the economy, with tax cuts for businesses and measures to help low-income households.
While business leaders and analysts agreed Ankara’s measures would benefit companies, experts warned of higher unemployment and lower growth.
They also pointed to the possible devastating impact on tourism which employs hundreds of thousands of people.
The concern is that before the outbreak, the economy was growing only tentatively after a currency crisis in 2018.
Moody’s ratings agency said among the G20, it expected Turkey “to be hit the hardest, with a cumulative contraction in second- and third-quarter GDP of about 7.0 percent” in 2020.
But as recently as March 19, Finance Minister Berat Albayrak said he did “not see any risks to the economy for now” and was still aiming to meet the ambitious target of five percent growth for 2020.
“The shock will likely take a large toll on tourism-related sectors through the summer,” Moody’s added.
Last year, tourism income rose 17 percent to $34.5 billion while the number of visitors increased nearly 14 percent to about 52 million.

In an outdoor market in Ankara, residents were concerned about unemployment while traders were worried about keeping their households afloat.
Selling vegetables, trader Mehmet Arslan said the situation was “difficult” because his customers, mostly those above 65, have been told to stay at home.
“If we can’t do this work, how can we live?” the 35-year-old asked.
Other traders said sales were down 70-80 percent.
The jobless rate rose to 13.7 percent in 2019 from 11 percent in 2018, while inflation was 12.37 percent last month.
Among the unemployed, Bilge Ceyhan, 44, said the outbreak worried her.
“How am I going to continue my (job) search? How will the (job) market be after this?” Ceyhan said, adding her savings would not last forever.
Atilla Yesilada, analyst for the GlobalSource think-tank, said Ankara’s measures so far were in line with other countries, “but extremely inadequate given the kind of projections I and other experts have in mind.”
He warned there could be many job losses as more shops shut, and recommended the government offer financial support more easily.

In mid-March, the government said nearly 150,000 businesses had temporarily closed.
“The American way is the safest way: write a cheque, don’t ask questions,” Yesilada said. “You’re doing it to ensure unemployment doesn’t hurt the rest of the economy.”
Erdogan last week announced more measures including $1.1 billion to support workers on the minimum wage after criticism the initial package supported businesses more than employees.
He said 1,000 lira ($155) would be also provided to two million low-income families each.
Finance Minister Albayrak said there would be an employment support scheme to protect jobs which businesses can apply for.

The government budget was “generously” spent last year, Yesilada said, adding Ankara had no cash and that eventually more money could have to be printed.
This in turn would push inflation higher.
But the analyst said Turkey had the option to apply for money from the International Monetary Fund — which Erdogan has previously vowed to avoid.
Cagatay Ozdogru, CEO of Turkey’s largest family-owned investment firm Esas Holding, said the country was in a better position than others and had “advantages,” including a young population and experience with crises.
Domestic demand was robust, he told AFP, adding that once shops started to reopen, customers would return to their usual consumption.
But he suggested Turkey also needed Western economies to get back on their feet, which “could take some time.”
Turkey’s growth would fall in the short-term before improving again, Ozdogru added.
“This is an unprecedented situation, everyone’s making mistakes and 90 percent of what (Ankara) is doing is from the international playbook but they need to do more,” urged Yesilada.


OPEC, allied nations extend nearly 10M barrel cut by a month

Updated 21 min 49 sec ago

OPEC, allied nations extend nearly 10M barrel cut by a month

  • The meeting, originally scheduled for next week, was brought forward to Saturday

VIENNA: OPEC and allied nations agreed on Saturday to extend a production cut of nearly 10 million barrels of oil a day through the end of July, hoping to boost energy prices hard-hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
Ministers of the group and outside nations like Russia met via video conference to adopt the measure, aimed at cutting out the excess production depressing prices as global aviation remains largely grounded due to the pandemic. It represents some 10% of the world's overall supply.
However, danger still lurks for the market. Algerian Oil Minister Mohamed Arkab, the current OPEC president, warned attendees that the global oil inventory would soar to 1.5 billion barrels by the mid-point of this year.
“Despite the progress to date, we cannot afford to rest on our laurels,” Arkab said. “The challenges we face remain daunting.”
That was a message echoed by Saudi Arabia's Oil Minister Abdul Aziz bin Salman, who acknowledged “we all have made sacrifices to make it where we are today.” He said he remained shocked by the day in April when U.S. oil futures plunged below zero.
“There are encouraging signs we are over the worst,” he said.
Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak similarly called April “the worst month in history” for the global oil market.
The decision came in a unanimous vote, Energy Minister Suhail al-Mazrouei of the United Arab Emirates wrote on Twitter. He called it “a courageous decision and a collective effort deserving praise from all participating producing countries.”
OPEC has 13 member states, including Saudi Arabia. The additional countries part of the plus-accord have been led by Russia, with Mexico under President Andrés Manuel López Obrador playing a considerable role at the last minute in the initial agreement.
Crude oil prices have been gaining in recent days, in part on hopes OPEC would continue the cut. International benchmark Brent crude traded Saturday at over $42 a barrel. Brent had crashed below $20 a barrel in April.
The oil market was already oversupplied when Russia and OPEC failed to agree on output cuts in early March. Analysts say Russia refused to back even a moderate cut because it would have only served to help US energy companies that were pumping at full capacity. Stalling would hurt American shale-oil producers and protect market share.
Prices collapsed as the coronavirus and the COVID-19 illness it causes largely halted global travel. That also hurt US shale production, drawing the ire of President Donald Trump. But Trump welcomed the earlier deal, as US Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette did on Saturday with the extension.
“I applaud OPEC-plus for reaching an important agreement today which comes at a pivotal time as oil demand continues to recover and economies reopen around the world,” Brouillette wrote on Twitter.
Under a deal reached in April, OPEC and allied countries were to cut nearly 10 million barrels per day until July, then 8 million barrels per day through the end of the year, and 6 million a day for 16 months beginning in 2021.
However, some countries produced beyond their quotas set by the deal. One of them was Iraq, which remains decimated after the yearslong war against the Islamic State group.
On Saturday, Iraq Oil Ministry spokesman Assem Jihad said in statement that Baghdad had “renewed its full commitment” to the OPEC+ deal.
“Despite the economic and financial circumstances that Iraq is facing, the country remains committed to the agreement," Jihad said.
Analysts had expected OPEC and the other nations to extend the cuts of 10 million barrels per day by one more month, but not longer, since the level of demand is still fluctuating.
“If the demand is great, countries like Russia will want to produce more oil, so they probably won’t want to get locked into a longer-term deal that may not help them,” said Jacques Rousseau, managing director at Clearview Energy Partners.