The fall in Turkey’s lira to record lows is raising jitters among foreign investors who will have lost a good deal of money on the currency side of their stock and bond investments. They are also worrying about the response of the central bank, which has effectively ruled out large rate hikes to stabilise the currency. But can the 20 percent lira depreciation seen since May 2013 help correct the country’s balance of payments gap?
Turkey’s current account deficit is its Achilles heel . Without a large domestic savings pool, that deficit tends to blow out whenever growth quickens and the lira strengthens . That leaves the country highly vulnerable to a withdrawal of foreign capital. Take a look at the following graphic (click on it to enlarge) :
In theory, a weaker Turkish lira should help cut the deficit which has expanded to over 7 percent of GDP. Let us compare the picture with 2008 when the lira plunged around 25 percent against the dollar in the wake of the Lehman crisis. At the time the deficit was not far short of current levels at around 6 percent of GDP. By September 2009 though, this gap had shrunk by two-thirds to around 2 percent of GDP.
An IMF paper at the time praised Turkey’s response, noting that allowing the lira to weaken had limited the country’s 2009 economic contraction to less than 5 percent compared to the 8 percent fall that would have been the case, had it held the lira stable.
That adjustment is yet to happen this time – the deficit stayed almost unchanged over 2013 despite the currency’s steady depreciation against the dollar. But perhaps these are early days.