© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A logo of Turkey’s Central Bank is pictured at the entrance of its headquarters in Ankara, Turkey October 15, 2021. REUTERS/Cagla Gurdogan/File Photo
By Karin Strohecker and Libby George
LONDON (Reuters) – The top policymaker picks of Turkey’s re-elected president Tayyip Erdogan are taking centre stage as markets try to gauge whether he will change course towards economic orthodoxy or double down on policies widely viewed as unsustainable.
Erdogan is widely expected to use his victory in Sunday’s election to embark on a wide cabinet reshuffle, potentially changing the finance and economy portfolios as well as the central bank leadership, as his rule embarks on a third decade.
Foreign investors have swerved Turkish bonds and equities in recent years as the economy gyrated through boom-and-bust cycles, rampant bouts of inflation and a currency crisis that has seen the lira lose more than 90% over the past decade. On Monday, the lira tumbled to a fresh record low.
Erdogan’s increasing interventions to stabilise the lira, and his insistence on ultra-low interest rates, have piled pressure on Turkey’s fiscal budget and financial sector. With reserves dwindling, few doubt that changes are unavoidable. But just how deep and meaningful these will be remains uncertain.
“In an environment with highly centralized decision-making, the market will pay attention to a change in the economy team only if this change signals a decisive turn in policymaking,” said Emre Akcakmak, at asset manager East Capital, which is invested in Turkish stocks.
Economic policy divisions emerged in the days before the Sunday vote, when ruling party members gathered to discuss how they might adopt a new policy of gradual interest rate hikes and a targeted lending programme.
“The final decision related to finmin (finance minister) position is likely to provide some strong signals about economic policies in the new term,” said Ercan Erguzel at Barclays (LON:), noting there had been efforts to bring back former finance minister Mehmet Simsek, who was well respected by markets.
“If markets see the appointment of Simsek, or a similar orthodox figure soon, expectations for a quick return to orthodoxy would strengthen.”
Others feared scars left by a revolving door at key economic and monetary policy institutions will endure. Those personnel changes occurred as Erdogan sidelined technocrats and hollowed out the institutional capacity of the central bank and ministry of finance.
The last four years have seen four governors at the helm of the central bank alone.
“Surrounded by supporters seemingly selected based on loyalty, the danger is that the sensible voices still left in the AKP are now too distanced to have any influence on Mr Erdogan’s decision-making,” said Roger Mark, an analysts at fund manager Ninety One.
Erdogan has given little indication on the shape of economic policy in the weeks and months to come, though he acknowledged some issues facing the nation of more than 80 million people.
“The most urgent topic of the days ahead is to relieve the troubles resulting from the price rises caused by inflation and to make up for the losses in prosperity,” Erdogan said in his victory speech in Ankara, predicting inflation – which stood at around 44% in April – would fall, just like interest rates had done.
Tuncay Tursucu, founder of Tuncay Tursucu Research and Consulting, said that Erdogan’s speech emphasised “internationally respected financial management,” raising hopes of policy shifts.
“However, in order for this rise to be permanent, it is necessary to determine the cabinet, to clarify the names that will come to the economy management, and to announce a new roadmap, if any, on the economy,” Tursucu said.
Pre-election optimism for economic policy u-turns largely evaporated after Erdogan’s strong first-round showing confounded the polls and set the stage for his third decade in office.
Thomas Gillet, director of sovereign ratings at Scope Ratings, said a partial adjustment of the policy mix was still a possibility, but would require consistent planning and implementation to be effective.
“However, President Erdogan has given little indication of any such U-turn,” Gillet said.