Wild Lira Ride Awaits If Dissenters Right on ‘Kamikaze’ Rate Cut

(Bloomberg) -- The world’s worst-performing currency could fall on harder times still if Turkey’s central bank has a surprise interest-rate cut in store this week.

A new bout of tensions with the U.S. has once again put the lira under strain, threatening to revive inflationary pressures for an economy barely on the mend after prices spiked following a currency crash in August.

For almost all economists surveyed by Bloomberg, that closes the case for monetary easing when the central bank meets on Wednesday, with BlueBay Asset Management LLC’s Tim Ash saying a cut would be a “kamikaze” move that risks sending the lira into a tailspin.

Wild Lira Ride Awaits If Dissenters Right on ‘Kamikaze’ Rate Cut

Unlike last month, however, when analysts were unanimous in expecting no change, two of 21 economists predict a decrease this time. The combination of a recession, a slowdown in inflation and a partial recovery in the lira may prompt a cut in the benchmark to 23.5 percent from 24 percent, according to Jason Tuvey at Capital Economics.

“Political pressure” ahead of local elections in March is an additional factor that could drive the Monetary Policy Committee to set off on an easing cycle, regardless of any collateral damage on the currency, he said by email on Monday. Although President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has long favored lower borrowing costs and built his political success on supercharging economic growth with stimulus, he’s mostly been silent on rates in recent months.

“The lira would probably come under a bit of pressure if the MPC does decide to cut rates, given that it would be a surprise to the markets,” Tuvey said. What’s more, “there’s a big risk that the central bank of Turkey ultimately lowers rates more aggressively, triggering a sharp sell-off.”

With Turkey bracing for a severe downturn as consumers and companies struggle after the currency crisis, policy makers in December tweaked their pledge to keep borrowing costs elevated but still committed to “continue to use all available instruments in pursuit of price stability.” Although inflation has slowed for a second month, it remains just above 20 percent from a year earlier, four times the central bank’s target.

Geopolitics are also in the mix again. President Donald Trump has warned Turkey that it faces economic devastation if it attacks U.S-backed Kurdish forces in Syria. Turkey has been massing troops on its border for weeks in preparation for an operation to eradicate Kurdish militants that the U.S. has vowed to protect.

Recent data already point to a deepening contraction, with industrial production declining more than forecast in November in the weakest reading since 2009.

The lira hasn’t fared well against that background. After three straight months of gains against the dollar, it’s off to the worst start in the world this year and is down more than 5 percent since late November. A surprise decision could unleash a new wave of depreciation that’s certain to feed into import costs.

Since the central bank retained its tightening bias in December, an about-face at the subsequent meeting “would not be appropriate,” according to Inan Demir, an economist at Nomura Plc in London who’s ranked by Bloomberg as the most accurate forecaster on Turkish rates.

“The case for a cut weakened further as tensions with the U.S. re-emerged and the lira underperformed other emerging-market currencies,” he said.

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