ECONOMY

Turkish markets wait for Iraq war, US aid

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish markets were little changed yesterday, trading narrowly and nervously as fears about a looming war in Iraq were highlighted by a visit to Ankara by senior US officials. Turkey is hoping to win billions of dollars in financial help from Washington to mitigate the impact on its crisis-hit economy of a war on its borders and is expected to drive a hard bargain for its commitment to help in such a conflict. The lira ended barely changed at best bids of 1,649,000 to the dollar, off early lows but still just weaker than Thursday’s 1,648,000. Yields on December 3, 2003 debt rose to 56.28 percent from Thursday’s 55.56 percent. Debt traders said the market was hit by the Iraq tension as well as concerns about delays in passing an IMF-backed public tender reform law. They predicted another slow week next week as trade winds down for the end of the year. «As long as there are no new developments on Iraq, since we don’t expect a treasury auction, I don’t expect much movement except for people closing their books,» said one banker. But later on, Turkey’s Treasury announced it would hold a tap sale on December 30 to sell 377-day dollar-denominated debt to primary dealers, reopening a sale from this week. The Treasury sold $606.8 million of the same paper at an auction this week at a yield of 6.47 percent. That followed a sale of $125 million of the paper in non-competitive pre-auction sales to market makers. The main stock index ended up 0.65 percent at 10,463.95 points after falling 4 percent on Thursday. The index hit a low of 10,192.1 points in the morning before picking up in a nervous rebound. US State Department and Treasury officials Marc Grossman and John Taylor were in Ankara to meet government officials as Turkey considers how much support it will give if Washington goes to war over Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction. Ruling party leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey would hold back from concrete promises of support for a US war on Iraq until initial results of United Nations weapons inspections are clear. Erdogan, leader of the Justice and Development Party (AK), said Turkey would not be hurried into any decision and he reiterated Ankara’s desire to see UN approval for any attacks. «We are waiting for Grossman’s talks and any announcement from the (Security Council),« said Mustafa Karaca of Taksim Securities. Washington is credited with being the main advocate of Turkey’s $16-billion IMF rescue program and markets will be hoping for more financial support if there is a war. «The size of the US package for Turkey’s possible losses in an attack on Iraq is important,» said Gonca Yagci from international sales at Koc Invest. «The newspapers say Turkey needs $28 billion. If that is agreed on, it may give a momentum to the markets,» she said. Erdogan, who had voiced misgivings about the IMF rescue program ahead of November’s elections said yesterday he favored delaying implementation of a law aimed at reducing state corruption that the IMF wants in effect by January 1. That puts Erdogan at odds with Prime Minister Abdullah Gul who promised on Monday that the law would be passed in time to meet the IMF deadline. The law updating the procedure through which the Turkish state buys goods and services is one of a number of reforms Turkey has promised the IMF under a $16-billion loan pact. The AK is planning a law to revise procurement reforms passed by the previous government but Erdogan said the problems that needed to be overcome were too great. «It’s not healthy. I believe there would be serious problems. I am in favor of a year’s delay,» he told reporters in Ankara. The changes envisaged by the AK would remove a range of state bodies and municipalities from the compass of the law. Anti-corruption campaigners hope the reforms will contribute to an end to widespread state graft. The IMF said last week it hoped to complete the latest phase of the loan deal, linked to a $1.6-billion pay-out, after a visit to Turkey in January.