Central bank of Turkey

Claire Jones

The Central Bank of Brazil shocked markets in August by lowering its benchmark rate to 12 per cent. Will it cut again this Wednesday? Analysts expect so.

The Central Bank of Turkey, another of the emerging market central banks that has been taking economists by surprise by loosening policy, votes on Thursday, as does the Central Bank of the Philippines. 

Claire Jones

Luckily for this blog, monetary policy is no longer as “boring” as Sir Mervyn King would like.

Still, it remains predictable enough that economists are rarely surprised by decisions. Especially for those central banks that target a certain level of inflation. Recently, however, most have been getting it spectacularly wrong on some of the key emerging market votes, notably Turkey’s and Brazil’s rate cuts.

They might have called it right had they read this collection of papers, published by the Bank for International Settlements yesterday.  

Claire Jones

The Bank of Israel – one of the first to raise rates following Lehman Brothers’ failure – on Monday became the latest to override domestic price pressures and cut on the back of concern over the global outlook.

Following the lead of the central banks of Turkey and Brazil before him, Stanley Fischer, the Bank’s governor and  sole rate-setter, shaved a quarter point off Israel’s benchmark interest rate to leave it at 3 per cent, despite inflation rising by half a percentage point to 3.4 per cent last month, above the 3 per cent upper limit of the inflation target range.

Public outcry at high inflation – particularly food price pressures – has inspired Facebook groups that have attracted over 100,000 members. And rising house prices have prompted more than a quarter of a million Israelis to take to the streets. (The central bank maintains that its measures, along with more house building, will slow the pace of house-price inflation).

Growth – at 2.4 per cent in the second quarter (annualised) – is relatively high, and unemployment – at 5.5 per cent – low.

All of which has meant that analysts – the vast majority of which had forecast a rate hold – were taken aback.

So why has Mr Fischer cut rates?  

Claire Jones

Central bankers this week have acted on fears that the global outlook could weigh on domestic growth.

The Central Bank of Turkey’s shock decision on Thursday to cut its policy rate to an all-time low in the face of strong growth and above-target inflation shows just how pronounced those fears are.

Japan and Switzerland have both attempted to counter their currencies’ rapid appreciations over recent weeks, which have occurred on the back of events in the US and the eurozone.  

Turkey’s banking industry could be damaged unless the central bank reverses last year’s decision to stop paying interest on required reserves, the head of one of the country’s biggest lenders claims.

Suzan Sabanci, chairman of Akbank, told the Financial Times that new rules requiring banks to lodge 15 per cent of short-term lira deposits with the central bank risked fundamentally weakening banks unless they received interest in compensation. “The government is trying to be cautious that the economy doesn’t grow too fast. And I agree with that,” she said. “But we need to be recompensed. They should start paying interest in six months’ time.” 

Ankara has sharply raised the proportion of short-term deposits lenders must keep with the central bank, while holding policy rates steady.

Turkey’s reserve requirements differ by maturity of deposit, and the central bank’s strategy has been to tighten requirements for potentially destabilising short-term deposits, while loosening them to encourage long-term deposits. The chart, right, shows how the structure of reserve requirements has changed since the new policy began in December (dark blue line), at which point all ratios were 6 per cent. 

Turkey’s central bank stepped in again this week to clear confusion over the effects of its unorthodox monetary policy, after the release of data that appeared to contradict comments made by officials. The trouble was caused by balance of payments data: it showed portfolio inflows of $2.3bn in January, higher than a year earlier and at odds with official claims that some $10bn of “hot money” had left the country since December, when the central bank began “quantitative tightening” to deal with macroeconomic imbalances.

Two clarifications from the central bank have cleared up the discrepancy. The balance of payments data showed foreign investors had sold out of Turkish equities since November, while increasing their exposure to debt instruments. But the figures did not include money market transactions, mainly in the form of swap operations. Here, the central bank said, there had indeed been an outflow of $11.5bn since November. 

Loan growth is slowing in Turkey, backing up claims by Turkey’s central bank governor that its unorthodox monetary policy is working.

Data from Turkey’s banking watchdog, BDDK, showed total banking sector loans rose 2.8 per cent to February 18. This equates to about 21 per cent over a year, well within the bank’s target 20-25 per cent loan growth. It also represents a significant drop from the annual rate of 35.6 per cent on the year to February 18. The actual annual volume of banking sector loans to February 18 was 550.3bn lira. 

Loan growth is losing pace and $10bn short-term capital has left Turkey since the start of its new interest rate policy in December, central bank governor Durmus Yilmaz said Friday. Despite this, the current account deficit – one of the principal targets of the measures – will continue to rise in the first quarter due to base effects. Mr Yilmaz added he did not foresee a change in policy when his governorship ends in April.

The statements add up to declaration of success – but there was a caveat. Oil prices, driven higher by events in Libya, created a “new situation”, Mr Yilmaz admitted. Turkey’s rate-cutting, reserve-requirement-raising policy has so far been possible thanks to falling inflation and fairly high unemployment. (Rate cuts in an inflationary environment would have been far more dangerous.) If oil prices were to remain high, they would create an inflation risk that might constrain Turkey’s monetary plans. For now, as long as Saudi Arabia and its oil reserves stay out of the current turmoil, many believe the oil price shock will be short-lived.

No reversal in Turkey. The central bank held rates at its latest policy meeting, hinting it would continue with its new monetary policy, data permitting. Since December, the Bank has been cutting rates and raising reserve requirements – a combination that they say has a tightening effect overall. Early indications suggest the policy is working.

The measures taken by the Central Bank since November are reducing macro-financial risks by leading to a more balanced growth path, mainly through a slowdown in import growth…