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Turkey holds key rate at 19 percent for third month to help lira

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Turkey’s central bank on Thursday held its interest rate at 19 percent for the third month, balancing President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s call for lower borrowing costs with the need to support the depreciating currency, Agence France-Presse reported.

“Taking into account the high levels of inflation and inflation expectations, the current tight monetary policy stance will be maintained decisively until the significant fall in the … forecast path is achieved,” the bank said.

Erdoğan created a new wave of market jitters by repeating on June 1 that he was “determined” to see rates come down in the coming months.

He fired a central bank governor in March who won market plaudits by hiking the benchmark borrowing cost from 10.25 percent to 19 percent over his four-month term to fight inflation and support the lira.

Trying to calm the market, new central bank governor Şahap Kavcıoğlu said on June 2 that expectations of an imminent rate cut “need to disappear.”

The lira’s depreciation from around three to the dollar in 2016 to roughly 8.6 this week has been one of the factors behind a steady decline in Erdogan’s approval numbers.

An annual inflation rate of 16.6 percent has contributed to a sharp drop in Turks’ purchasing power and price rises for basic goods.

Erdoğan subscribes to the unconventional belief that higher interest rates cause inflation by forcing businesses to raise their prices to compensate for higher borrowing costs.

Most central banks around the world believe that higher rates temper spending and that this helps bring prices down.

But Erdoğan’s push for cheap money has helped Turkey’s economy grow by 1.8 percent in 2020, a year when production was crimped by coronavirus lockdowns.

The International Monetary Fund expects Turkey’s economy to expand by 5.8 percent this year.

“Although policy uncertainty and vulnerabilities have increased, Turkey’s challenges are not insurmountable,” the IMF said this month.

This required “strongly committing to, and delivering, a firm monetary stance — with no premature easing and with further timely and well-calibrated tightening if inflation expectations rise further,” it said.

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