Erdogan’s new dove: Five questions for Turkey’s central bank

Erdogan’s new dove: Five questions for Turkey’s central bank
For many analysts, Erdogan’s latest intervention has left the bank’s credibility in tatters. (AFP)
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Updated 15 April 2021

Erdogan’s new dove: Five questions for Turkey’s central bank

Erdogan’s new dove: Five questions for Turkey’s central bank
  • Erdogan fired latest governor last month
  • Dismissed two days after he raised interest rates

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.


Emirates to operate 70% of pre-pandemic capacity by year-end

Emirates to operate 70% of pre-pandemic capacity by year-end
Updated 31 min 25 sec ago

Emirates to operate 70% of pre-pandemic capacity by year-end

Emirates to operate 70% of pre-pandemic capacity by year-end
  • The Dubai flag carrier may obtain further financial support from the Dubai government and could also issue bonds

RIYADH: Emirates Airline will operate 70 percent of its pre-pandemic power by the end of this year, Chairman Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al-Maktoum revealed.
He said the company maintained strong financial solvency despite the devastating impact of the pandemic on the global aviation sector, Bloomberg reported.
The Dubai flag carrier may obtain further financial support from the Dubai government and could also issue bonds, he said.
“We are dealing with an emergency situation that changes on a weekly or even daily basis,” he said. “We are working on long and short trips. We currently have 151 Boeing 777 planes, and about 20 Airbus A380s in service, and we are awaiting the opening of markets and destinations to gradually return them,” he said.
Emirates Airline and flydubai were working to improve cooperation and develop further partnerships, he said.


Egypt to prioritize vaccination of tourism workers

Egypt to prioritize vaccination of tourism workers
Updated 45 min 9 sec ago

Egypt to prioritize vaccination of tourism workers

Egypt to prioritize vaccination of tourism workers
  • About 65 percent of tourists in Egypt head to those coastal destinations

DUBAI: Egypt is prioritizing the vaccination of tourism workers to support the sector’s recovery and is on track to announce full inoculation of two resort areas this month, its tourism minister said.
While Egypt’s tourism industry is still reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic, the sector has picked up in recent months, with more visitors heading to resorts along the Red Sea and Mediterranean coasts.
“We will prioritize workers in the tourism industry, which is an essential sector for Egypt’s economy,” Tourism and Antiquities Minister Khaled Al-Enani told AFP.
“In May, I will announce, along with the minister of health, the complete vaccination of Egyptian workers in hotels, resorts, businesses and restaurants in South Sinai and the Red Sea,” he said on the sidelines of a travel industry conference in Dubai.
About 65 percent of tourists in Egypt head to those coastal destinations, he said.
Enani said other tourist spots will follow, such as Luxor, Aswan and the capital Cairo, home of the Giza pyramids and major museums.
Egypt, which has a population of approximately 100 million, has administered some one million doses, according to authorities.
About two million people work in the tourism industry or organizations linked to it.
Along with its pyramids and pharaonic temples, Egypt is also known for its seaside resorts.
After experiencing “significant and continuous loss” since the coronavirus outbreak, the sector has picked up, said Enani.
He said Egypt welcomed 500,000 tourists in April, more than double the number in January and up from just 200,000 tourists a month in the second half of last year.
“The important thing is there is an upward curve,” Enani said.
“We hope the numbers will increase again in the near future with the opening of some countries and the easing of restrictions, including in Arab countries, Europe and Russia,” he said.
“The return of tourism in Egypt does not only depend on us, but remains linked to other countries.”
Cairo has announced several major new archaeological discoveries in recent months, hoping to revive a sector which was battered by a 2011 uprising, political unrest and jihadist attacks.
While the industry recorded a rebound of nearly $13 billion in revenues for 2018-2019, tourism was hit hard again by the  pandemic.
Official figures show a drop of more than 20 percent in revenues for mid-2019 to mid-2020.
Egypt reopened to foreign tourists in July last year after having closed its borders in March. Visitors only need to produce a negative PCR test.
Russia earlier this year resumed flights to Egypt’s Red Sea resorts after the lifting of a flight ban.
Moscow banned direct flights to Egypt after the 2015 bombing of a Russian airliner shortly after it took off from the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, killing all 224 people on board.
 


Saudi sovereign fund PIF boosts US equities exposure to over $15 billion

Saudi sovereign fund PIF boosts US equities exposure to over $15 billion
Updated 18 May 2021

Saudi sovereign fund PIF boosts US equities exposure to over $15 billion

Saudi sovereign fund PIF boosts US equities exposure to over $15 billion
  • Fund increased its US stock holdings to $15.4 billion in the first quarter

DUBAI : Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund has increased its US stock holdings to $15.4 billion in the first quarter from nearly $12.8 billion at the end of 2020, according to a US regulatory filing on Monday.
The Public Investment Fund (PIF) bought 2.9 million class A shares in SoftBank Group Corp-backed Coupang Inc, equivalent to $141 million, and dissolved its share stake in Suncor Energy, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing.
It more than doubled its position in Activision Blizzard to 33.4 million shares from 15 million shares at the end of the fourth quarter, which led it to a $3.1 billion exposure from $1.4 billion.
The fund increased its shares in Electronic Arts Inc. to 14.2 million, equivalent to $1.9 billion, from a $1.1 billion position at the end of the previous quarter.
PIF, which did not immediately respond to a comment request on the filing, is at the center of Saudi Arabia’s plans to transform the economy by creating new sectors and diversifying revenues away from oil.
The $400 billion fund is expected to inject at least $40 billion annually in the local economy until 2025, and increase its assets to $1 trillion by that date, which would make it one of the world’s biggest sovereign wealth funds.
“PIF would have wanted to take advantage of the bullish sentiment in equity markets in Q1 to make opportunistic investments and add to its portfolio,” said Rachna Uppal, director of research at Azure Strategy.
“In line with domestic efforts to achieve the objectives of Vision 2030, the Saudis also appear to be favoring investments into sectors such as technology, mobility, and especially future mobility, tourism and entertainment,” she said.
At the start of last year PIF piled up minority stakes in companies worldwide, taking advantage of market weakness caused by the coronavirus crisis.
Monday’s filing showed the value of its biggest US stock holding, Uber Technologies, rose to nearly $4 billion in the first quarter, from $3.7 billion as of Dec. 31, as the ride-hailing company’s shares gained value during the period.
PIF was an early investor in Uber, taking a $3.5 billion stake in 2016, three years before its listing in 2019.


Qatar Investment Authority to take $740m chunk of US renewables firm Avangrid

Qatar Investment Authority to take $740m chunk of US renewables firm Avangrid
Updated 18 May 2021

Qatar Investment Authority to take $740m chunk of US renewables firm Avangrid

Qatar Investment Authority to take $740m chunk of US renewables firm Avangrid
  • QIA will buy shares worth $740 million and Iberdorla, the largest shareholder in Avangrid

RIYADH: Renewable energy provider Avangrid said it would sell shares worth a total of $4 billion to both the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) and Spanish Iberdrola Group for $ 51.40 a share.
QIA will buy shares worth $740 million and Iberdorla, the largest shareholder in Avangrid (based in Orange County, Connecticut, US), will purchase approximately $3.26 billion of stock, Asharq Business reported.
The deal is expected to close on Tuesday.
The Qatar Investment Authority last March also acquired 16 percent of the 53 million shares offered by Siemens Healthineers, through a private placement of $2.8 billion.
The fund is targeting deals in Asia, in an attempt to diversify its investment portfolio, which has a great focus and weight in America. Northern and Europe, Chairman Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said in a previous interview with Bloomberg.

 


Egyptian neobank Telda raises $5m in Sequoia-led pre-seed round

Egyptian neobank Telda raises $5m in Sequoia-led pre-seed round
Updated 18 May 2021

Egyptian neobank Telda raises $5m in Sequoia-led pre-seed round

Egyptian neobank Telda raises $5m in Sequoia-led pre-seed round
  • It was the first investment for the American venture capital firm in the Middle East and North Africa

DUBAI: Telda, a Cairo-based digital banking application, has raised $5 million during its pre-seed funding round organized by US firm Sequoia Capital.
It was the first investment for the American venture capital firm in the Middle East and North Africa.
Global Founders capital and Class 5 Global also participated in the round.
The app recently announced it has received license from Egypt’s central bank to issue cards and on-board customers to its platform.
It has received 30,000 sign ups since it started its operations, it said.
The funding comes as digital-only banks rise in popularity across the region, where 60 percent of the population is estimated to be under the age of 25.
“Egypt boasts of a large, young, talented and tech savvy population with a strong appetite to innovate,” Sequoia partner George Robson said.
Egypt is among the top 10 countries most reliant on cash and with the highest rate of unbanked people, according to Merchant Machine.
“Today’s funding milestone promotes the digital transformation of the Egyptian economy and allows Telda to provide everyone with access to important financial services so they can fully participate in the economy,” Telda chief technology officer Youssef Sholqamy said.
Sholqamy, who was a former senior engineer in Uber’s infrastructure team, co-founded the startup with Ahmed Sabbah, who also founded the Egyptian bus-hailing service Swvl.