General

Turkey’s enormous problems

Monday, August 13th, 2018

From my previous professional life as a bank chief economist I remember very well the Turkish banking crisis of 2000/2001, followed by a major economic downturn (GDP 2001: -5.3%). Prior to the banking crisis, macroeconomic imbalances in mainly the budget and the current account had worsened alarmingly and, thus, strongly contributed to fading international confidence in Turkey’s financial – and also political – system. The lira weakened strongly at the time. Foreign investors sold huge amounts of their Turkish T-bills and even stocks. Logically, the currency reserves shrank dramatically. At the end of the day, the IMF provided Turkey with a 10.5 billion financial rescue package. After this, a serious political crisis followed all the same – before an economic recovery could be noted and the weak banking system was reformed into a more stable shape.

Unfortunately, the acute starting position of the current Turkish crisis does not look very different from the one 17 years ago. Major macroeconomic fiscal and trade imbalances exist also today. The Turkish currency has dropped substantially not only in recent days but also by around 35 percent so far in 2018.

Political conditions, however, look partly different this time – with other kinds of political leadership in both Turkey and the U.S., giving the current economic problems in Turkey even stronger political dimensions than in the beginning of this century. But this does not necessarily mean that the current Turkish crisis “automatically” will end in a more benign way, particularly when considering president Trump’s current resistance to potentially needed major international global financial rescue actions.

Worst case scenario

Still, the worst case scenario is only a scenario. But the current situation is critical and can aggravate further. The worst case scenario could include major bank problems in Turkey with contagion to EU banks that have major loan and securities involvement in the Turkish financial system. Such a development could lead to major GDP losses in mainly Turkey but also to a more limited extent in the EU. Read, by the way, more about this relationship in the research of Hyman Minsky!

All this leads to the conclusion that the coming development in Turkey should be given very strong analytical attention. President Trump’s future ideas and action play certainly an important role in this respect. Sometimes, he changes his mind unexpectedly in another direction. But Turkey itself should also under all circumstances work more ambitiously with its ongoing macroeconomic imbalances, particularly since the country is highly indebted abroad – both what concerns private and public debt.

Experience from other countries with similar challenges shows that nervous or speculating financial markets usually are stronger than the defense lines set up by the pressured country with its currency reserves – unless the acute problems are combatted promptly or surprisingly positive news make the whole picture brighter.

Hubert Fromlet
Affiliate Professor at the School of Business and Economics, Linnaeus University
Editorial board

 

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Trump and China

Wednesday, November 9th, 2016

The United States is a global power. So is China. Two global powerhouses should get along. Will this be the case with president Trump? This is an important question,

It is a clear matter of fact that the political relations between the U.S. and China were in the worst shape for several decades already before the American presidential election. Thus, it seems to be hard to predict improved political relations between Washington D.C. and Beijing any time soon. The question seems to be rather how much these sensitive political relations can deteriorate further if Trump’s heavy protectionist threats against China come true.

Brexit, the possible or probable death of TTIP, increasing American protectionism against China, a possible future populist president in France, etc ., are challenges that can/will contribute to increasing protectionism in the world. Such a development is never positive and would certainly affect China negatively, particularly since China so far has been the main beneficiary from the past few decades of globalization and trade liberalization.

Conclusion: China has no choice but to conduct a pragmatic political course vis-à-vis the United States.

Hubert Fromlet
Senior Professor of International Economics, Linnaeus University
Editorial board

 

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Poland – do (central) banks ever learn?

Wednesday, June 15th, 2016

Trying to lower costs for interest rate payments is a natural human ambition. But nothing is free of charge. Risks may be increasing when potential gains seem to be achievable. In credit terms this is often about exchange rate risks for borrowing in foreign currencies. (This problem is, by the way, usually part of my classes in the first semester).

These considerations on credit conditions may happen by applying three alternatives: comparing nominal interest rates between two countries, expectations of a stronger own currency or both of these two alternatives as a simultaneous mix. However, the mostly existing exchange rate risks make things particularly difficult and speculative; the calculations have to be based on a forecast – and everybody should know that currency forecasts in principle are impossible. In other words: a lot of luck is needed if a credit in foreign currency really turns out to be profitable. In my view, taking such a risk is neither prudent nor smart.

But these speculations happen again and again – despite all the negative stories about it. In Sweden, we have some bad experience from the times of devaluations around 35-40 years ago when greed or limited intellectual capacity led to massive loans in Swiss francs to Swedish farmers; later on, accidents happened with lending in yen for pure domestic Swedish purposes. The same kind of mistake was also committed before the eruption of the so-called Asian crisis in the late 1990s, with several countries in mainly South East Asia being heavily involved. And the story behind the financial crisis in the Baltic countries more recently was not very different either.

Unfortunately, Poland also went into this trap – an accident I did not expect ten years ago after having met so many well-educated and well-understanding leaders at this country’s central bank from as soon as the early 1990s. From around 2006 onward, however, too many new Polish mortgage loans were granted in Swiss francs, combined with strong expectations of an ever strengthening zloty. In 2008, finally, this development was reversed. The zloty weakened on trend. The central bank and the banks should have reacted before that. The zloty moved at last on a long-lasting downward trend. Thus, previous expectations of very favorable credit conditions were not met anymore.

Consequently, many mortgage credits in foreign currency have become very expensive in the past few years. For this reason, the Polish government now tries to launch a package for converting these burdening credits in foreign currency into stable zloty loans. However, his transmission will not be easy – and very costly, too.

The question remains: Will banks – and even central banks – ever learn?

Hubert Fromlet
Senior Professor of International Economics, Linnaeus University
Editorial board

 

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