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Volatile Turkish lira slips again after attempt to quell selloff (Update)

Turkey’s lira slipped in volatile trade on Monday after new government limits on banks’ foreign-exchange helped the currency briefly erase Friday’s sharp losses before selling resumed.

Investors and traders said the whip-saw trading – after weeks in a narrow range – suggested Turkish state banks were again intervening to attempt to buffer the lira after they sold tens of billions of dollars over the past year.

The lira strengthened to as low as 5.975 against the dollar before reversing course. It was worth 6.0180 at 1200 GMT, a bit weaker than Friday’s close.

It had tumbled to as far as 6.05 on Friday, its weakest level in regular trading since May, as a late-week rally in the dollar prompted a selloff across emerging markets.

“This reflects the desperation of Turkish officials to keep the lira artificially stable,” said Piotr Matys, senior EM FX strategist at Rabobank. “If it was a free-floating currency it would be much higher but it is a managed float.”

The BDDK bank regulator on Sunday cut the limit for Turkish banks’ forex swap, spot and forward transactions with foreign entities to 10% of their equity, from a 25% ceiling set in August 2018 during the worst of Turkey’s currency crisis.

The new FX limits are one of a series of government steps taken to stabilise the currency after the 2018 crisis cut its value by 36% in two years and tipped Turkey’s economy into recession.

“This reflects the desperation of Turkish officials to keep the lira artificially stable,” said Piotr Matys, senior EM FX strategist at Rabobank. “If it was a free-floating currency it would be much higher but it is a managed float.”

Yatirim Finansman said the BDDK move “is another step towards avoiding potential FX rate volatility and to shore up reserves.”

The currency’s one-month implied volatility spiked on Friday and Monday to its highest level since mid-January. A week earlier, it touched its lowest level since mid-2013 after a broad downward trend since May of 2019.

The overnight lira swap rate jumped to as high as 75% and touched its highest level since April of 2019, before falling back to 9.7% in London.

While economic growth rebounded in the fourth quarter of last year, official data on Monday showed that unemployment remained elevated at 13.3%, down from 13.4% a month earlier.

While a jump in industrial sector job growth could help lower unemployment, youth unemployment remained elevated at 24%.

Istanbul’s main stock index was off 0.3% with the banks sector down 0.5% after the BDDK separately reduced fees lenders can charge clients, squeezing a key source of income.

Turkey’s dollar-denominated sovereign bonds tumbled including one issue logging its sharpest drop since October, while credit default swaps jumped.

Friday’s lira weakness came after the Treasury minister said state banks had agreed to lower loan rates, suggesting more rate cuts from the central bank, and as the Turkish military girded for more confrontation in Syria’s Idlib region.

“Trading volumes look significantly larger than usual which is suspicious of (state bank) interventions, and which then feeds suspicions that we might have done better recently than we perhaps should have,” said Koon Chow, an EM macro and FX strategist at UBP.



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