MAKKAH: Watch Isha and Taraweeh prayers live from the Grand Mosque in Makkah, empty this year due to the coronavirus outbreak in the Kingdom.
ISTANBUL: Turkey’s fourth central bank chief in less than two years will oversee his first policy decision on Thursday, after President Tayyip Erdogan rocked financial markets by firing a well-respected governor who had hiked rates just last month.
Erdogan replaced Naci Agbal, a policy hawk, with Sahap Kavcioglu, who has openly criticized Turkey’s tight monetary stance and who shares the president’s unorthodox view that high interest rates cause inflation.
The shock decision on March 20 raised expectations that the policy rate, now at 19 percent, would soon be cut and sent investors fleeing, knocking the lira 12 percent lower. For many analysts, Erdogan’s latest intervention has left the bank’s credibility in tatters.
Here are five questions ahead of the bank’s policy decision this morning:
1. WHAT HAS HAPPENED SINCE LAST MONTH’S RATE HIKE?
On March 18, the bank under Agbal raised rates by 2 percentage points — more than had been expected — to address inflation that was headed beyond 16 percent, and to reinforce his hawkish rhetoric. Two days later, early on a Saturday morning, he was fired.
Minutes after trading began the following Monday, the lira had plunged as much as 15 percent, to 8.485 versus the dollar, leaving it just above the record low hit the day before Agbal was appointed in November 2020.
Stocks had their worst selloff since the 2008 global financial crisis as foreigners dumped nearly $2 billion in Turkish assets in a week. The cost of insuring investments using credit default swaps jumped by 150 basis points to 450 bps.
“Because the whole change of governor has come in such a surprising fashion, the market is quite skeptical,” said Reza Karim, assistant fund manager, emerging markets debt, at Jupiter Asset Management, which has CDS insurance on an already “underweight” Turkish position.
“If they stay put ... and maintain the hawkish policy then that’s a positive sign,” he said of Thursday’s rates meeting.
2. WHERE DOES THE NEW GOVERNOR STAND?
Kavcioglu, a former banker and lawmaker in Erdogan’s ruling party, wrote in a newspaper column as recently as February that high rates do not help the economy and “indirectly cause inflation to rise.”
Since taking the job, he has downplayed those views and promised tight policy for a while given high inflation.
Asked on a call about his past columns, he told investors he would now act in line with his “institutional task” and urged them to “judge me after” the April policy decision, according to sources who took part in the call.
The assurances have resonated — for now.
All but two of 19 economists polled by Reuters expect Kavcioglu to hold rates this week. Oyak Securities said the lira could weaken if the bank’s post-meeting statement removes a reference to raising rates if needed, while Morgan Stanley warns a surprise cut would trigger a 15-20 percent plunge.
3. HOW IS POLICY LIKELY TO CHANGE?
Beyond this month, Kavcioglu is expected to cut rates sooner than would have happened under Agbal, whose hawkish moves sparked a brief lira rally that reversed a years-long exodus of foreign funds.
Five of 14 poll respondents predicted policy easing before mid-year, while seven forecast a move in the third quarter. Yet over the next two years, money markets appear to be betting rates will end up higher due to inflation pressure.
Premature rate cuts that further weaken the lira could, in turn, prompt Turkey to consider adopting some form of capital controls, some analysts say. The government has firmly dismissed this option.
“If you can’t raise rates and you don’t have sufficient reserves, then you don’t have any other choice if you want to limit exchange rate depreciation,” said Morgan Stanley’s chief economic adviser Reza Moghadam, a former IMF regional head.
“A lot of central banks that have reserve difficulties get into those (controls) but it doesn’t usually end well.”
4. WHAT ARE THE RISKS FOR INVESTORS — AND FOR TURKEY?
Investors were drawn by higher yields as Agbal adopted one of the tightest monetary policies in the world. After he was fired, sparking some big losses, some investors said they would not come back.
Ratings agencies say the reaction to Erdogan’s decision — and the harm it does to monetary policy independence — raises the risk of a balance-of-payments crisis given Turkish banks and companies have some $160 billion in short-term foreign debt.
The buffer against such a crisis is thin: a costly and unorthodox policy in 2019-2020 of selling some $128 billion in dollars to support the lira has depleted the central bank’s FX reserves by about 75 percent.
The lira’s slide, along with higher oil prices, has meanwhile raised import prices and pushed inflation up to 16.2% in March. Wall Street banks predict it will reach as much as 19 percent this quarter, keeping basic living costs high for Turks hit by the pandemic and joblessness.
5. WHAT DOES ERDOGAN WANT?
Reuters reported that Erdogan ousted Agbal for two reasons: his long-held aversion to high rates, and politics.
Erdogan was uncomfortable with Agbal’s investigation into the $128 billion in FX sales undertaken during his son-in-law Berat Albayrak’s stint as finance minister, sources said.
Agbal had promised to rebuild the FX buffer and the government has promised to stick to free-market principles. But analysts say the bank could revert to FX interventions under Kavcioglu.
Erdogan — who has shoved out three central bank governors in two years — called for single-digit rates again this month.
“Comments from Erdogan confirm his desire to cut rates rapidly and so there is clear risk of a dovish surprise this week,” said Win Thin, global head of currency strategy at Brown Brothers Harriman.
“The economy is suffering greatly from the pandemic and Erdogan is desperate to inject some stimulus quickly,” he said.
RIYADH: The Arab coalition destroyed five ballistic missiles and four explosive-laden drones launched by Houthis toward Saudi Arabia, Al-Ekhbariya reported on Thursday.
The attacks targeting Jazan are the latest in a long line of hostile actions against the Kingdom by the Iran-back Houthi militia.
Jazan University was one of the targets as well as other civilian sites protected under international humanitarian law, coalition spokesman Turki Al-Malki said in a statement on the Saudi Press Agency, adding that the actions amount to war crimes.
The attacks originated from Sa’dah governorate in Yemen, Al-Malki added.
The coalition said the attack is a continuation of the Houthis’ systematic and intentional hostile attempts to target civilians.
The Houthis, who took over the capital of Yemen, Sanaa, in 2014, have been condemned for their actions against the Kingdom.
The Saudi government has said the Houthi attacks are not only against the Kingdom and its economic facilities, but rather the center of the global economy, the security of its exports and its oil supplies, while also affecting maritime navigation.
Saudi Arabia has consistently backed efforts to resolved the war in Yemen peacefully.
Last week, Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman held talks with Yemeni Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed, and reiterated that the Kingdom supports “all efforts to end the conflict, implement a cease-fire, alleviate the humanitarian crisis, and reach a political resolution that guarantees peace and prosperity for the brotherly people of Yemen.”
In March, Saudi Arabia announce a peace initiative to help end a war that has ravaged Yemen for the last six years. The initiative, which has received wide support, includes a cease-fire supervised by the UN, the reopening of Sanaa airport, and new talks to reach a political resolution to the conflict. Restrictions on the Red Sea port of Hodeidah would also be eased, allowing access for ships and cargo.
The UN’s chief, Antonio Guterres, backed the deal and urged all sides to take this opportunity to pursue peace and work with his special envoy, Martin Griffiths, on ways to proceed “in good faith and without preconditions.”
LONDON: The Saudi-based King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSrelief) has officially opened an artificial limbs clinic in the Yemeni city of Aden, the state-run Saudi Press Agency reported on Wednesday.
Qasim Buhaibeh, the Yemeni minister of public health and population, thanked KSrelief for its work to help the Yemeni people. He also praised the achievement of establishing the prosthetic limb facility, which he said “will contribute to providing medical services and alleviating the suffering of those who are injured and the victims of mines.”
Saleh Al-Dibani, the director of KSrelief in Aden, said the organization has provided the prosthetic limb center with the resources it needs to help 1,434 beneficiaries, including 300 new prosthetic limbs.
He added that KSrelief is also providing resources for maintenance of prosthetics, rehabilitation services, physiotherapy, and to hire medical staff in coordination with the Yemeni Ministry of Health.
“The project of equipping and preparing artificial limbs is one of the most important projects funded by KSrelief in the governorates of Aden, Taiz, Seiyun and Marib, with the aim of supporting the Yemeni health sector,” said Al-Dibani.
The center is part of the framework of humanitarian and relief efforts being provided by Saudi Arabia, through KSrelief, to the Yemeni people.
RIYADH: The Asbar Center for Studies, Research and Communications announced the launch of the Asbar Observatory on Development, the first of its kind in monitoring and anticipating future development in the Kingdom.
Established in 1994, the Asbar Center is a scientific organization dedicated to conducting studies and research on development and policies.
Dr. Fahad Al-Orabi Al-Harthi, president of the Asbar Center, said the new observatory is one of the center’s initiatives.
“The idea of launching the observatory comes within the framework of the center’s efforts to keep pace with developments witnessed in various fields in the Kingdom, in order to achieve its ambitious Vision 2030,” he said.
Through the observatory, Al-Harthi noted, the Asbar Center seeks to build a national system that contributes, in cooperation with the responsible authorities, to monitoring development needs and providing information to authorities.
Al-Harthi also said the observatory will assist decision-makers in shaping life in Saudi Arabia and anticipating its future through foresight tools. In preparation for a pioneering developmental journey that supports changes, the observatory will also anticipate future opportunities and challenges by analyzing their effects and developing innovative solutions to them.
“The mechanism of the Asbar Observatory project relies on the work of local and international development indicators,” Al-Harthi said.
“The observatory will focus on monitoring development and issuing reports to the competent authorities on progress, social innovation, sustainable development and social responsibility. It will also issue future forward-looking studies.”
Al-Harthi said he hopes the Asbar Observatory will enhance the Kingdom’s presence in various global fields while maintaining its distinguished international position.