ECONOMY

Turkish lira firms on hopes for more US-backed IMF loans

ISTANBUL – Turkey’s lira currency firmed yesterday as investors gambled that the country’s backing of the USA with troops in Afghanistan meant Washington would support Ankara in its search for further crisis lending. The lira strengthened to 1,574,000 to the dollar on the central bank-brokered spot market from Wednesday’s 1,594,000 soon after NATO-member Turkey announced it was sending about 90 special forces troops to train and assist the Afghan opposition against the Taleban. Bonds also rose a touch on the news, though equities shied away from overhead resistance at 10,000 and fell more than 2 percent. Investors said that decision could only help Turkey in its search for foreign lending to plug a 2002 financing gap that officials say will reach $13 billion. A link has been made between the support for Afghanistan and the additional resources that will come from the IMF. The fact that an agreement has been reached (on troops) is seen as making the money certain, said one banker. The IMF said yesterday it would send a team to Ankara later in the week to discuss performance under an existing $19-billion lending package and to gauge the size of Turkey’s financing gap. The lira’s strength reduced the currency’s depreciation against the dollar since a crisis float in February to 56.3 percent from 56.9 percent. Some traders said the lira could firm to 1,550,000 if optimism continued. I think this (troop deployment) decision creates a conjuncture that may secure the flow of money from international bodies or from state to state, said Murat Inceleme of Garanti Portfolio Management. Economy Minister Kemal Dervis has said aid from the IMF and from industrialized G-7 nations is essential to dragging Turkey out of a recession forecast at 8.5 percent of GNP this year. Traders also welcomed progress toward legislating a public procurement reform law seen as crucial to winning IMF aid. The market thinks it’s the turn of good news now, said another forex dealer for a private bank. Bond yields also fell slightly, a good sign for Turkey’s treasury, which has to service a total of 14,200 trillion lira (around $8.9 billion) in capital and interest on domestic debt in November and December. Average yields on the busiest March 6, 2002 paper fell to 80.48 percent from Wednesday’s 81.61 percent. The optimistic expectations are reflected in yields. Benchmark rates are down to around 80 percent. To fall further there is an expectation that (central bank overnight rates) will have to fall, said a banker. But equities traded on the main Istanbul National-100 index ended down 2.17 percent at 9,634.61 points after spending much of the day in positive territory with brokers saying selling began after the exchange had failed to break a key resistance. There were not enough new entrants to the market to push the index through the 10,000 level, said Sedat Ali Eratac of OB Securities in Istanbul. Turkey is NATO’s only Muslim member and has firmly backed the US-led international response to the September 11 suicide plane attacks in the United States of America.