| 24 July 2024, Wednesday |

Lira plunges 7% as Turkey edges towards free market

The Turkish lira fell 7% to a new low on Wednesday, the worst drop since a historic 2021 fall, traders said, a “strong signal” that Ankara is moving away from state restrictions and toward a freely traded currency.

Since President Tayyip Erdogan was re-elected on May 28, the currency has been under growing pressure. At 1500 GMT, it was trading at 23.18 per dollar, having hit a record low of 23.19, extending its losses this year to roughly 20%.

Under Erdogan’s unorthodox programme, authorities have taken a hands-on role in foreign exchange markets, using up tens of billions of dollars of reserves this year alone to hold the lira steady. The central bank’s net forex reserves hit an all-time low of negative $4.4 billion last month as demand surged through the elections.

But Erdogan signaled a u-turn at the weekend when he named Mehmet Simsek, a former deputy prime minister who is well regarded by foreign investors, as finance minister. Simsek later said economic policy needed to return to “rational” ground and on Wednesday said there were “no quick fixes” for policy.

Four traders said the decline in the central bank’s forex and gold reserves had stopped as of last week, and could begin to recover, along with signs of the change in forex policies.

Though many regulations need to be changed, “the destination is becoming clearer every day: We are going towards the lira’s value being determined by market conditions,” one trader said.

Erodgan is considering appointing Hafize Gaye Erkan, a U.S.-based senior finance executive, as central bank governor, Reuters reported on Monday. She would succeed Sahap Kavcioglu, who spearheaded Erdogan’s rate-slashing drive since 2021.

Given the heavy selloff, some analysts said the central bank might hold an emergency meeting to hike interest rates.

An emergency hike “is very possible (and) could stabilise markets in the short-term,” said Ulricht Leuchtmann, head of FX research at Commerzbank.

“It smells like the beginning of a lira crisis,” he added. “This is what happens when you get an exponential move – for a long time you think nothing happens, and then all for a sudden all hell breaks lose.”

The bank’s next policy meeting is scheduled for June 22.

Some analysts expect the lira to weaken towards a range of 25-28 against the dollar.

Another trader said the currency was nearing levels at which it “will not need to be defended with reserves,” adding sharp intraday losses could continue for some time.

  • Reuters