The Turkish lira has depreciated rapidly since the turn of the year, recently notching its weakest ever level against the dollar (USD/TRY), but analysts suggest the risks are still skewed to the downside.
Only two years after its last currency crisis, the lira was changing hands at just over 7.31 to the dollar on Thursday, with the greenback has gained more than 23% against it year-to-date.
Central to the currency’s weakness has been Turkey’s unconventional monetary and fiscal policy moves and the diminished independence of its central bank (TCMB). President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sacked former governor Murat Cetinkaya last July in a dispute over high-interest rates, prompting an aggressive easing cycle from rates of 24% to 8.25% over the past year.
The government has long intervened to stabilize the currency, but now faces an external financing gap, limited reserves, a deteriorating inflation outlook and rising foreign currency deposits locally, all of which is expected to exert further downward pressure.
Goldman Sachs has raised its three-month USD/TRY outlook to 7.75 but said the medium and long-term direction will depend on the path of policy.
“Moreover, while the TCMB has taken some measures to tighten liquidity, no adjustment of the negative real policy rate has been forthcoming, which raises the risk that policymakers could wait until pressure on the Lira increases before hiking rates in earnest,” Goldman Co-Head of Foreign Exchange Kamakshya Trivedi said in a note Thursday.
In gauging how far the USD/TRY spot rate could rally, Trivedi suggested looking at 2018, when the dollar gained almost 50% against the lira in a short period. He projected that the 2018 move is likely to be the upper bound for a discontinuous ascent in 2020.
This is first because standard valuation models are of limited use in assessing the Turkish lira at present, Trivedi noted, since the path forward “depends primarily on forces that are ‘outside the model’: namely, a policy mix that in our view is exacerbating imbalances and eroding inﬂation credibility in Turkey.”
Secondly, foreign positioning in Turkish local assets is much less now than in 2018, Goldman analysts highlighted.
“Third, while the current account balance in Turkey is healthier than in 2018 (while trending in an unfriendly direction in 2020 so far), funding even that from capital inﬂows is proving harder than in 2018,” Trivedi highlighted.
Turkish Lira defense has ‘failed’
Timothy Ash, senior emerging markets sovereign strategist at BlueBay Asset Management, said recent lira depreciation shows an “admission that the hard defense of the lira around the 6.85 level,” in a bid to present an image of stability and stem dollarization, had “failed.”
“They blew $65 billion in defense of the lira and for little benefit, as they are now accepting they have to let the lira go weaker to balance out the external financing requirement,” Ash said in a note Thursday.
Ash suggested the defense had capitulated in part because rates were too low, forcing an excess burden onto intervention, compounded by a lack of foreign exchange reserve coverage.
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