October 25, 2018 / 11:38 AM / 23 days ago

Turkish central bank keeps rates unchanged after lira recovery, hefty hikes this year

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey’s central bank left its benchmark interest rate unchanged on Thursday as expected, after a mammoth hike in September and an improvement in diplomatic relations with Washington helped the lira recoup some of its huge losses this year.

FILE PHOTO: A logo of Turkey's Central Bank (TCMB) is pictured at the entrance of the bank's headquarters in Ankara, Turkey April 19, 2015. REUTERS/Umit Bektas/File Photo

The lira TRYTOM=D3 has plunged as ties with the United States soured and each side imposed tit-for-tat sanctions and additional tariffs. At the heart of the rift was the detention in Turkey of a U.S. pastor, who has now been released.

To underpin the currency and counter soaring inflation, the central bank last month ramped up its benchmark rate by 6.25 percentage points, in a move that also soothed investor concerns about the independence of the bank.

But, with inflation at 24.52 percent last month, economists have said the central room has left itself little space to breathe, particularly as President Tayyip Erdogan pushes for lower interest rates.

“They had some scope to keep rates unchanged for the time being but that does not mean they are completely out of the woods yet,” said Per Hammarlund, chief emerging market strategist at SEB.

“If they signal an easing on monetary policy until the end of the year, the lira is at great risk of experiencing another wave of weakness, another sell-off.”

The bank left its one-week repo rate TRINT=ECI at 24 percent on Thursday, having already raised its policy rate by 11.25 percentage points this year.

Twelve out of 15 economists in a Reuters poll had predicted the central bank would choose to leave its policy rate unchanged.

The currency is still down a third against the dollar this year, but it has found support since the release of U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson.

“Although weaker domestic demand conditions will partially mitigate the deterioration in the inflation outlook, upside risks on the pricing behavior continue to prevail,” the bank said in a statement.

(Graphic: Turkish inflation and cenbank funding - tmsnrt.rs/2ReALcb)

KEEPING IT REAL

Erdogan, a self-described “enemy” of interest rates, wants to see cheaper credit flowing to companies to boost economy activity. His calls for lower rates have battered confidence in the central bank’s ability to adequately respond to the rise in inflation, which hit a 15-year high in September.

After the central bank's decision the lira TRYTOM=D3 initially weakened to 5.71 against the dollar, compared with 5.67 before the announcement. It stood at 5.68 at 1109 GMT.

Even after last month’s big rate hike, Turkey is yet again without real interest rates - what economists call the rate once inflation is taken into account.

“The Turkish central bank’s decision to leave interest rates unchanged today and the accompanying statement reinforce our view that last month’s aggressive rate hike didn’t represent a shift back to orthodoxy,” Jason Tuvey of Capital Economics said in a note.

“Interest rates are unlikely to be raised further. Indeed, the bigger risk in our view is that, with President Erdogan starting to raise pressure for lower interest rates, that policy is loosened prematurely.”

Even as inflation remains high, there are worrying signs of a slow-down. Central bank data showed Turkish manufacturing confidence fell to 87.6 points in October, its lowest level since April 2009.

Consumer confidence, a measure of consumers’ view of the economy’s outlook, fell to its lowest in nearly 10 years in October.

Writing by Daren Butler and David Dolan; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Jon Boyle

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