Turkey returns to orthodox policies, inflation will remain elevated
Turkey’s credit-driven economic expansion will fade now that the May 2023 elections have passed, as this model pushed for lower interest rates despite skyrocketing inflation (85% y-o-y in October 2022). The central bank is expected to raise its policy rate to around 25-30% by end-2023 from 8.5% in May 2023. That said, the pace of rate hikes remains uncertain and modest compared with inflation expectations at the end of 2023 (between 60-65%) and tight financial conditions. In early July 2023, the average interest rate was 48% on consumer loans, 25% on commercial loans, while the one-month deposit rate was 28%, all well above the Bank’s policy rate.
Additionally, the government’s decision to hike taxes on a broad category of goods and services, the lira’s sharp depreciation of 30% between January-July 2023, a rise of 86% for the lowest-grade public workers after the elections, and a total increase of 107% in the minimum wage in 2023, will heighten the economy’s inflationary pressures. Consequently, a return to single-digit inflation will remain out of reach in our forecast horizon. Persistently high inflation and the tightening of the financial conditions will weigh on private demand. Private consumption, which has been strong for a while on back of demand pulled forward by rising inflation, will make a smaller contribution to growth in the post-March 2024 local election period. Government expenses, on the other hand, will continue to contribute positively through reconstruction needs in the wake of the February 2023 earthquakes (estimated at around USD 26 billion) and other possible expenditures before the local elections. Tougher economic conditions for their clients, the obligation to buy treasuries to match credit and the maintained ceilings on the interest rates charged on commercial loans, both imposed by the central bank as part of its macro-prudential measures, will prompt banks to shy away from providing loans to the private sector. This will in turn weigh on investment growth and represent a key risk for companies as it complicates their cash flow management, particularly for highly indebted companies. In case of easing macro prudential measures on loans, companies’ access to credit may become easier, but it will cost more.
Wide twin deficits increase the need for financial resources
Tax hikes and the government’s efforts to curb all expenditure except for earthquake-related spending are expected to narrow the fiscal deficit in 2024, following the sharp widening trend in 2023. That said, public debt (around 35% of GDP, excluding liabilities linked to BOT projects) does not represent a major risk, although the portion linked to foreign currency has risen and affected more than 60% of the central government debt stock at May 2023. The main debt-related risk stems from the private sector. The short-term external debt stock of the non-financial private sector (around 6% of GDP) will continue to remain the main risk for companies due to their high indebtedness and weak equity structure.
Elevated inflation, low interest rates on term deposits and insufficient depreciation protection provided by KKM savings accounts have resulted in higher domestic demand for consumer goods and for gold as the latter, all of which is imported, is seen as a traditional safe value haven. The slowdown in domestic demand, however, will drag on the pace of import growth, Additionally, tepid European demand – Europe is Turkey’s key trade partner – for Turkish goods and services (except tourism) will weigh on export growth. All in all, the trade deficit should narrow, and, with it, the current account deficit, thus reducing pressure on the lira. The authorities’ efforts to defend the currency and counter forex demand until the elections in May 2023 sent the central bank’s international net reserves to a record low of USD -5.7 billion at 2 June, 2023. In order to build up its reserves, the central bank signed swap deals with central banks of China, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and South Korea worth about more than USD 20 billion, as well as with domestic commercial banks. In March 2023, Saudi Arabia deposited USD 5 billion in the Turkish central bank through the Saudi Fund for Development.
Need for financial resources pushes Turkey towards stronger and diversified alliances
Although the return to conventional policies is seen as a positive step to address the country’s economic issues, it will take time to gain back investor confidence which has been repeatedly hit by Turkey’s unorthodox policies. Until investors are confident of a stable legislative agenda and of macroeconomic stability, foreign investors' share in bond and equity markets (below 1% and 30%, respectively) will remain low. This situation may prompt Turkish authorities to soften their relations with the West. The start of talks between Greece and Turkey to agree on a roadmap and the green light to Sweden’s accession to NATO, are positive signs. Turkey will continue to reinforce relations with the Gulf states in the hope of reaching new investment deals. Turkey’s ties with Russia, ranging from energy to the grain corridor, are expected to prosper in the upcoming period, including cooperation over regional conflicts such as in Libya, Syria and between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Last, China could become interested in investing in the country to move closer to Western markets.