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Turkish Lira Slides as Finance Minister Struggles to Impress

Turkish Lira Slides as Finance Minister Struggles to Impress

The Turkish lira stumbled on Friday after the country’s finance minister struggled to impress investors with his new economic reform programme on a visit to Washington.

Fund managers and analysts crammed into a ballroom at the Park Hyatt hotel on Thursday, with some attendees spilling out into the adjacent corridor. They were keen to hear Berat Albayrak elaborate on the plans announced earlier in the week, which were crowned by a broadly well-received promise to inject 28bn lira ($4.9bn) of fresh capital into the country’s state-owned banks.

The meeting was hosted by JPMorgan, the US investment bank that just weeks ago became the subject of two investigations by Turkish regulators, who accused it of publishing “misleading and manipulative” advice to clients to sell the lira.

Many of those present said that they were underwhelmed by the performance of Mr Albayrak, complaining that he was unable to provide enough detail to reassure investors that promises of fiscal discipline, support for the struggling banking sector and efforts to tackle annual inflation of 20 per cent were credible.

One delegate, who invests in emerging market debt, said that the finance minister was “unconvincing”, adding: “I wanted my mind changed but it wasn’t.”

The currency, whose meltdown last year has contributed to the country’s first recession in a decade, fell 1.4 per cent after the meeting, which was staged on the sidelines of a spring meeting held by the IMF and the World Bank. It later recovered some of its losses.

Another investor, who was among a small number of people who held additional private meetings with Mr Albayrak, said that the encounter was “disastrous”, describing it as “one of the worst performances from a finance minister I have seen”.

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The 41-year-old son-in-law of president Recep Tayyip Erdogan “failed to answer any questions convincingly”, this person said. “I felt sorry for his team taking notes as I could not understand anything he was trying to say.”

Not everyone who attended the group meeting was so scathing. “I think he came across as someone who wants to do the right thing, but who has constraints,” said one fund manager.

Several investors cited concerns about Mr Erdogan’s apparent determination to secure a rerun of the March 31 mayoral election in Istanbul that saw the opposition candidate emerge as the surprise winner, according to initial results. The Turkish president has heaped pressure on the country’s election board, which will decide whether or not to order a new poll, saying that the “sincere” thing to do would be to annul the result.

That prospect has alarmed investors, who had hoped that the initial vote would bring an end to the country’s never-ending election cycle and allow the government to focus on reforms.

“A very big determinant of the immediate risk situation in Turkey is what Erdogan decides to do about the Istanbul election,” said the EM debt portfolio manager. “There’s going to be a tailspin again if he rejects the vote.”

Originally published at: https://www.ft.com/content/98aa9800-5d2c-11e9-9dde-7aedca0a081a#

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