Despite efforts to stop lira fall, Turks still worried

Ankara (AFP) –


After the embattled Turkish lira weakened against the US dollar this week, Turks remain troubled over the economy despite the government's reassurances.

The lira's drama worsened on Wednesday when Japanese investors sold Turkish assets, after comments by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spooked investors earlier in May.

The lira hit 4.92 against the dollar before paring back some of its losses on Wednesday after an emergency central bank interest rate hike, but for many it's not enough.

In a busy bureau de change on one of Ankara's popular streets, thoughts turn to the worsening situation and fears that the country is already in a "currency crisis", as experts at Commerzbank have described it.

During AFP's visit, dozens came in to change their liras into gold, dollars and euros.

Ali Yilik indicated he was not convinced by Ankara's reassurances as he changed his money into dollars for work.

"Who wouldn't be worried about the exchange rate (situation)? This is not something that happens in normal conditions. It is extraordinary," Yilik, who sells construction material, said.

Ali's son Yahya Yilik, who is the manager at Tunali Doviz, said more Turks were coming in buying euros and dollars amid worries that the lira would fall further.

"They think the lira will keep losing value," Yilik told AFP, adding that interest rate increases were a "temporary measure".

In the past "one or two weeks", the manager said the centre had sold more foreign exchange than those wanting to buy lira.

The fall followed Erdogan comments during his UK visit mid-May when he indicated he wanted a greater say in monetary policy if he won in June 24 polls. This then raised concerns over economic policy becoming more unpredictable.

-'Really worried' -

Student Necdet Guven was in the bureau de change to obtain dollars ahead of a trip to the US in mid-June but said he was "really worried" about the economy.

"Because everyday our economy gets worse. In the past, Turkey used to be among the top countries for agriculture and livestock, but now we import meat from Serbia and straw from Russia," Guven lamented.

"We are not that developed a country in terms of industry," he added, saying he believed Turkey had the potential to develop the economy further.

The lira appeared to show no signs of dramatic improvement and was at 4.70 against the dollar on Friday. In the past month, the lira has lost over 16 percent of its value against the greenback.

In a bid to ease concerns, Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek -- an ex Merrill Lynch economist trusted by markets -- on Friday said the central bank "would do whatever is necessary" during an interview with NTV broadcaster.

"There is no question of taking steps back on either the independence of the central bank or the rule-based market economy," Simsek vowed.

- 'Outside forces' -

But not everyone looked at the situation pessimistically.

Orhan Albayrak said the euro and dollar's value was increasing because of "outside forces' economic pressure on Turkey", adding there was "an artificial rise".

But Albayrak, a wholesaler, was hopeful the lira's fortunes would improve towards the date of the presidential and parliamentary elections.

"But when there are five, 10 days to the elections, I believe this increase will reverse," he added.

Albayrak said the three percent key rate rise had some impact, but believed the lira could improve and "reach 4.2, 4.3" with further central bank moves supported by the government.

After the rate hike on Wednesday evening, Erdogan insisted Turkey would adhere to the global governance principles on monetary policy in the new system post-election.

But, Erdogan added he would not let those principles "finish our country off".