Turkey: Lira Bulls & Bears Battle It Out On Twitter

Authored by Mike Shedlock via MishTalk,

Is there a bullish case for the Lira? One person thinks so. Most think otherwise.

Lira Plunge Resumes

Interest Rates top 20%

There was a rumor Germany would come to the aid of Turkey. That rumor seemingly died today.

Robin Brooks Thinks Lira is Undervalued

Current Account Surplus

Switched Position

Yesterday's Story

Yes, But Liquidity in Short Supply

Bigger Crisis Possible

Rapid Loan Growth

Questions Abound

Setser commented "I find the balance sheet of Turkey's banks fascinating."

Framing Turkey's Vulnerabilities

Brad Setser frames Turkey's Vulnerabilities: Some Rhyme with the Asian Crisis, but Not a Repeat

There are a number of different ways of framing the cause of Turkey’s recent currency crisis.

I think the emphasis should be on Turkey’s banks, and their large stock of external debt. The banks are the main reason why Turkey's currency crisis could morph into a funding crisis, one that leaves Turkey without sufficient reserves to avoid a major default.

While Asia offers the best parallels, the analogy to Asia is also just a bit off. Turkey has, rather miraculously, been able to use external foreign currency funding to support a domestic boom in lira lending to households… something Asian banks never did, to my knowledge.

The financial mystery in some sense isn't how the banks’ lent foreign currency to domestic firms, it is how they used their external foreign currency borrowing to support domestic lira lending.

Turkey’s banks do hold a decent amount of regulatory capital. And they hold that capital in lira. Fair enough. A lot of folks think U.S. and European banks would be a lot healthier if they funded their lending with one dollar (or euro) of equity and six dollars (or euros) of deposits rather than funding their lending with a dollar of equity and close to twenty dollars of borrowed money. Equity isn’t “set aside” per se, it is invested alongside other sources of funding.

But by holding all of their equity in lira even though a large part of their funding and lending was in dollars, the banking system's capital ratio falls as the lira falls

Turkey’s banks borrowed foreign currency in part to have dollars to swap into lira in the cross-currency swap market. A borrowed dollar or euro swapped into lira is effectively lira funding, not dollar funding—it just shows up as foreign currency borrowing in the external debt data. As far as financial alchemy goes, cross-currency swaps are pretty plain-vanilla.

It was also the fact that the swaps generally had a shorter-maturity than the underlying foreign currency borrowing. Five year bonds were issued to raise dollars. But then the dollars were swapped for lira on a 3 month contract.

The result is that Turkey's banks have a maturity mismatch on their lira book. They will start taking losses quickly if domestic interest rates rise too high, as they have longer-dated lira loans and shorter-dated lira funding.

The banks also had the option of meeting their reserve requirement in gold. As a result, Turkey found a way to make gold deposits effectively available to support household lending (by letting the gold substitute for other forms of required reserves).

The net effect is that the banks have an extremely interesting—but rather complicated—foreign currency balance sheet, with an unusual mix of vulnerabilities.

So what’s my bottom line?

Simple—from a balance sheet point of view, the risk of a run on the banks' foreign currency funding poses far larger vulnerabilities than the government's funding need. The government, excluding the state banks, has almost $100 billion in external debt, but less than $10 billion coming due in the next year. The banks have just over $150 billion in external debt, but over $100 billion coming due over the next year.

The rise in Turkey external debt in 2017—which corresponded to a rise in Turkey’s current account deficit—now looks to be the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Bears Have It

There is much more in Setser's post. For those interest in FX, It's worth a read in entirety.

Setser concludes, and I agree, "I would bet that the dynamics in Turkey get worse before they get better—in most crises, creditors want to reduce their exposure, not just stop adding to it. The underlying risk of a severe crisis, one marked by systemic defaults not just an epic depreciation, remains."

The bears have the far bigger case with liquidity issues, Trump sanctions, and timing considerations.

Old Story, New Complicated Method

The story is an old one "complicated borrow short and lend long derivations eventually blow up, especially with foreign financing."

On July 10, I commented Spotlight Turkey: Hyperinflation and Mass-Migration Crisis Inevitable.

On July 14, I commented Hyperinflation Avoidance Advice for Turkish Citizens as Fitch Cuts Ratings.

On July 10, the Lira closed at 4.876. It is now 6.080. That a whopping 20% decline in just over a month, but it's nowhere near hyperinflation material.

Hyperinflation is a political event, not a monetary one, and Erdogan is on that path.

The primary bull case is not the one Robin Brooks suggested. Rather, it is a potential for a huge Lira rally if Turkey heeds Trump's demand and unconditionally releases US Christian pastor Andrew Brunson, absurdly held by Turkey on charges of terrorism.