Turkey’s ‘embarrassing’ intervention fails to curb lira sell-off

Turkey's Central Bank headquarters is seen in Ankara January 24, 2014. (REUTERS/Umit Bektas)

The lira extended its drop to a record low, and stocks slid the most in the world after Turkey’s central bank failed to stop the currency’s decline Thursday in the first unscheduled intervention in more than two years.

The currency plunged to a record 2.3360 per dollar before trading 1.7 percent lower at 2.3308 as of 2 p.m. in Istanbul. The Borsa Istanbul 100 Index lost 2.3 percent, the most among 94 equity indexes tracked by Bloomberg. Two-year bond yields rose 50 basis points to 10.99 percent, increasing for a fifth day in the biggest gain across emerging markets.

Turkey’s central bank sold between $3.5 to $4 billion Thursday to shore up the lira, according to Istanbul-based brokerage Strateji Menkul Degerler. The regulator said “unhealthy price formations” prompted the intervention, as the currency extended its longest rout since 2001. The nation has kept rates unchanged since August, favoring tighter funding costs for banks and daily dollar sale auctions, with a minimum $100 million on offer Friday.

“The aim was to inject a ‘shock and awe’ effect into the market by making the intervention process less predictable,” Manik Narain, a currency strategist at UBS AG in London, said in an emailed note. “But the results were rather embarrassing.”

Turkey’s currency is the world’s worst performer following the Argentine peso in the past month after an anti-corruption probe into the government spiraled into a political crisis and forced three ministers to resign.

“Direct interventions have made things worse,” Burak Cetinceker, an Istanbul-based portfolio manager at Strateji Menkul Degerler AS, said in an email. “This shows demand for dollars is not a speculative attack, but from real money investors.”

Gross foreign-exchange reserves at the central bank fell to $106.9 billion Thursday, the lowest since Sept. 20, the regulator’s data show. Russia holds $480 billion, while Brazil has $375 billion, according to figures compiled by Bloomberg.

“Exchange rates have come to the levels the central bank really does not want to see,” Emre Balkeser, head of trading at Garanti Securities in Istanbul, said in an email.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 25, 2014, on page 4.




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