Turkey’s underwhelming shock-and-awe

By Ben Walsh
January 29, 2014

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After an emergency midnight meeting yesterday, Turkey’s central bank acted in defiance of the country’s prime minister and raised its overnight lending rate to 12% from 7.75%. The move came in the context of declines in the lira and other emerging market currencies. In the last year, the lira has fallen more than 20% against the dollar, and is down 4.25% in the last month.

The lira strengthened against the dollar after the announcement, but the gains proved transient and were gone just 16 hours after the announcement. The lira ended Wednesday essentially flat, down 0.22% against the dollar.

The NYT’s Jack Ewing and Landon Thomas Jr explain the central bank’s strategy: “Higher interest rates tend to push up the value of the lira, by offering a greater return on investments denominated in the Turkish currency”. The central bank, say Ewing and Thomas, is worried that a weak lira will drive up the price of imported goods, increasing inflation (which was 7.49% last year) and hurting growth.

Menzie Chinn thinks domestic political concerns explain the lira’s fall: Prime Minister Erdogan is at the center of a corruption scandal and has accused the not-fully independent central bank of representing an vague “interest-rate lobby” who want to harm Turkey’s economy. One government minister said that the rise in interest rates benefited those who wanted to “suck Turkey’s blood“.

Reuters’ Sumanta Dey thinks the Turkish bank’s move signals an end to “days of guided monetary policy, telegraphed by central banks and priced in by markets in advance”. The WSJ’s Paul Vigna calls it central bank “shock-and-awe”.

SocGen’s Benoit Anne, referring to the possibility of rising inflation, slowing growth, and an ever-more politically controlled central bank, says the decision avoids a “domino crisis”:

The policy response to severe financial stability risks was punchy, aggressive and credible. An amazing job overall… Is Turkey out of the woods? Not quite of course. There are still two major issues. On the domestic side, the political environment continues to be quite challenging, with little sign this will improve anytime soon.

Cullen Roche writes that his biggest worry isn’t Turkey at all. It’s that “we’re back in ‘crisis’ mode”, where every small flare up portends a coming implosion. Roche thinks Turkey is a distraction, saying that as “goes China so goes these emerging markets”. — Ben Walsh

On to today’s links:

Smart Questions
“What does it meant for Apple to have a platform with a minority of users, indefinitely, in mobile? – Benedict Evans

Sad Declines
Two reasons why Detroit’s jobs collapsed so much worse than other hard-hit cities – Eric Jaffe

Increments
Monetizing compulsion: Every time you pull to refresh, Twitter makes $0.001 – Zach Seward

Primary Sources
FOMC statement full text: the Fed reduces QE to $65 billion from $75 billion – Federal Reserve
Tracking the changes from the December to January statement – WSJ

Energy
The North Dakota oil boom in animated gifs – NPR

Equals
Moving the gender needle in tech: “We can do better” – Tim Bray

Interesting
“I’m tired of arguing about inequality” – Will Wilkinson

Says Science
It’s almost as if “Got milk?” was just a really clever marketing ploy – Incidental Economist

Politicking
Enhancing the EITC is a good idea – Matt Yglesias

It’s Not Just Academic
Poetry-vs-prose argument leads to stabbing death in Russia – Gawker

Remuneration
Deutsche cuts banker pay 23% to help pay its legal bills – Bloomberg

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