Dr Murat Kubilay:  Economic repercussions of Erdogan’s ever-changing economic models

Following the resignation of the finance minister and his replacement by a loyalist on Dec. 2, the Turkish lira continued its steady decline against the dollar, bringing its losses for the year to nearly 50%. The Turkish currency is once again under speculative attack, similar to previous episodes in July 2018 and October 2020. The Central Bank of the Republic of Turkey’s (CBRT) early cuts to the policy rate since September have resulted in an exodus of foreign capital and a rush in demand for foreign exchange among domestic investors. Meanwhile, global commodity and energy prices remain high (despite the recent dip in oil prices), and expectations regarding inflation have deteriorated significantly, prompting the TL exchange rate to drop from 8.30 to 13.60 to the dollar in less than three months.


(Editor’s Note:  On 28 Dec, at 18:00 hours, dollar/TL traded at 11.84. The exchange rate   fluctuations have no material impact on the conclusions reached by the author)



Policy impact


The main positive outcomes of this policy  (encouraging  TL weakness, to gain competitive advantage in export markets) are a boost to foreign trade from lower labor costs and reduced demand for finished imported goods. These are reflected in the current account balance — the difference between goods and services exported and imported — as Turkey began to run a current account surplus in August, when the exchange rate was 8.40 to the dollar and tourism revenues were weak compared to pre-pandemic levels.

This trend will likely continue and result in a significant current account surplus in 2022 as tourism revenues are forecast to reach nearly $30 billion unless the pandemic worsens again. This would make external debt redemptions much easier and reduce Turkey’s external vulnerabilities.


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The major adverse effects from this policy are a significant loss of household purchasing power and persistent exchange rate volatility. The underlying reason for this is growing dollarization of household and business owners’ saving accounts.

The TL already lost its function as a store of value and if this negative trend continues, it may also cause the loss of its unit of account and medium of exchange functions as well. If that were to happen, then a high inflation spiral would start with a relatively low level compared to the 1990s but much higher than the 2010s. Wage increases will always be less than inflation, leading to a jump in the poverty rate. The most critical outcomes of this policy will be social unrest and complaints among businesspeople about supply chain disruptions due to internal instability.


Foreign investors already feel largely protected


Foreign investors already feel largely protected as their TL-denominated portfolio is very small. Their risk exposure to Turkey’s foreign currency debt is high, but the government’s willingness to make payments on time and its current account surplus target relieve this risk. Credit rating institutions may once again lower ratings for sovereign bonds. However, a balance of payments crisis and an inability to make import payments and redeem external debt are not expected. Turkish banks still have access to syndication loans from global financial institutions.

However, Turkey’s recent downgrade to the grey list by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) for money laundering and terrorism financing has caused significant damage. Furthermore, there are rumors that MSCI, the leading financial index provider for emerging markets, could downgrade Turkey from the privileged group of developed countries to a frontier market list or a quarantine like Argentina.



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Economists do not know for how much longer Erdoğan’s unorthodox policy can continue to be implemented. The fact is Erdoğan remains very determined to lower rates and the market reacts to his words rapidly and harshly. The resignation of the Treasury minister, Lütfi Elvan, and his replacement by Nureddin Nebati, an expert in public administration instead of economics or finance and a vocal supporter of the president’s drive to lower rates, should serve as an early warning of an excessive easing of economic policies.


No BoP crisis on the horizon


The base scenario does not consist of a balance of payments crisis and capital controls, hence there will probably not be a domino effect for other developing countries. Credit growth and the budget deficit are still at reasonable levels. Any massive increase in public spending and finance by printing money or monetary expansion will directly lead to new lows for the Turkish currency and worsen inflationary expectations. These steps may be implemented to maintain Erdoğan’s approval rating, such as by dramatically increasing the minimum wage and salaries of civil servants. The bureaucracy has not stopped Erdoğan’s unconventional demands so far.


The ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) alliance with the far-right Nationalist Action Party (MHP) is still strong and not enough MPs from the AKP have resigned to enable snap elections. For now, the most critical questions are if there will be protests on the streets due to the rise in poverty and whether the government will proclaim a state of emergency in reaction to them.



  1. Murat Kubilay is an independent financial advisor on the Turkish economy and a non-resident scholar with MEI’s Turkey Program. The opinions expressed in this piece are his own.


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Published By: Atilla Yeşilada

GlobalSource Partners’ Turkey Country Analyst Atilla Yesilada is the country’s leading political analyst and commentator. He is known throughout the finance and political science world for his thorough and outspoken coverage of Turkey’s political and financial developments. In addition to his extensive writing schedule, he is often called upon to provide his political expertise on major radio and television channels. Based in Istanbul, Atilla is co-founder of the information platform Istanbul Analytics and is one of GlobalSource’s local partners in Turkey. In addition to his consulting work and speaking engagements throughout the US, Europe and the Middle East, he writes regular columns for Turkey’s leading financial websites VATAN and www.paraanaliz.com and has contributed to the financial daily Referans and the liberal daily Radikal.