BEIRUT

Regional

Turkish bank shaves rate, resists pressure

File - Turkish lira banknotes are seen in this picture illustration taken in Istanbul October 18, 2011. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

ANKARA: Turkey’s central bank shaved half a percentage point from its key interest rate Thursday, resisting vehement pressure from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for more aggressive easing ahead of presidential elections in August.

But economists warned that even the relatively modest cut – the third reduction in a row by the bank – was a risky move in a country with high inflation and a substantial current account deficit.

The bank cut its one week repurchase rate to 8.25 percent from 8.75 percent, saying that a “measured cut” was appropriate in the current economic situation.

The bank also lowered overnight borrowing rate from 8.0 percent to 7.5 percent, while keeping the overnight lending rate at 12 percent.

But it was not clear if the modest cut will be enough to satisfy Erdogan, who has demanded sharper reductions to stimulate growth as he prepares to stand in the presidential polls.

The central bank – which is nominally independent – had sharply raised key rates in January in response to a steep drop in the lira that had threatened a currency crisis.

In January, the bank raised the one-week repurchase rate from 4.5 percent to 10 percent. Erdogan’s supporters in the government have called in recent weeks for the rates to be slashed back again.

But the bank indicated that the time was not right for an aggressive cut to pre-January levels and it still had its eye on inflation.

“Inflation expectations, pricing behavior and other factors that affect inflation will be closely monitored and the tight monetary policy stance will be maintained,” it said.

Annual inflation dropped to 9.16 percent in June, from a two year high of 9.66 percent in May.

But the bank also justified the economic rationale behind the decision to cut, saying that the “adverse impact of exchange rate developments since mid-2013 on annual inflation is gradually tapering off.”

The Turkish lira strengthened slightly against the dollar after the announcement, trading at 2.12 lira to the dollar.

Muhammet Mercan, senior economist at ING Bank in Turkey, said that the cut was in line with market consensus although it might not please the government.

He forecast that the rate cut policy was “nearing an end because indicators show inflation will remain high.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 18, 2014, on page 5.

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