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Loans Sour in Turkey, Inflation Hits 25%, Interest Rates Spike, Fears of Contagion Rise

Loans Sour in Turkey, Inflation Hits 25%, Interest Rates Spike, Fears of Contagion Rise

The economic miracle fueled by foreign-currency debt. 

The Bank of Turkey’s decision mid-September to hike its policy rate from 17.75% to 24% may have temporarily stemmed the rout in the Turkish lira, but the hiatus is now over. This week, the pressure is back on the nation’s currency, which is down almost 40% against the US dollar year to date, as well on its beleaguered banks, 20 of which were slapped with another downgrade by Fitch Ratings.

The lenders, Fitch said, are “more likely to come under pressure as a result of the further depreciation of the Turkish lira (by about 20% against the US dollar since the last rating review), the spike in interest rates (driven by the increase in the policy rate to 24% from 17.75% on 13 September) and the weaker growth outlook.”

The banks affected include foreign-owned subsidiaries such as Turkiye Garanti Bankasi A.S. (half-owned by Spain’s BBVA), Yapi ve Kredi Bankasi A.S. (part owned by Italy’s Unicredit), ING Bank A.S. and HSBC Bank A.S., which were downgraded to BB- from BB, as well as large state-owned banks (B+ from BB-), all with negative outlooks. As Fitch warns, the recent interest rate hike is likely to hurt lira borrowers’ debt service capacity, while exposures to the construction and energy sectors and high borrower concentrations are also “significant sources of risks at many banks.”

As long as the current climate of economic and financial instability continues, these problems are not going to go away. According to data recently published by the Turkish Statistical Institute, economic confidence in Turkey has sunk to a decade-low. Last week the country’s Finance Minister (and President Erdogan’s son-in-law) desperately tried to assure investors that he would, in classic Draghi fashion, do “whatever it takes” to support local banks, but few seem to believe that he has such means at his disposal.

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