Turkey's Next Economic Horizon: reviewing financial indicators

At the beginning of this past week, the world was gripped by the imminent possibility of global financial Armageddon. While the global markets have encountered and overcome small patches of turmoil over the last eight months, only this most recent turn of events has caused the Turkish media, government and upper-classes to immerse themselves in an open round of soul searching. What was once a whisper or secondary thought is gradually becoming the palpable hum of financial anxiety - a reality with which Turkey is extremely familiar.

Over the past few years, Turkey has emerged as one of the global stars of foreign direct investment (FDI). The Turkish lira has reached unprecedented levels of strength, allowing Turks to better cope with rising energy prices, experience unprecedented buying power in the form of cheap goods from China and for wealthier Turks, it has given them more confidence to purchase foreign delicacies such as sunglasses from Gucci. Whether one is a bus driver in Malatya or a bank employee in Izmir, Atatürk's famous saying Ne Mutlu Türküm Diyene (How happy is he who says "I am a Turk") has acquired a new meaning for today's Turkish consumer.

Turkey's AKP-led government continues to maintain a very confident demeanor. The World Bank released a very favorable review of Turkey's GDP prospects in 2008 and investors still show interest despite the looming global financial turmoil. While this observer does not mean to suggest that Turkey's economy will abruptly dive into utter chaos as a result of a global economic downturn, it is important to remember that multiple years of robust growth have produced a lot of fat, which a downturn will ruthlessly trim away. It is only after this inefficient excess has been exposed and removed, that one can truly evaluate the AKP-administered economic renaissance in Turkey.

The following are a number of noteworthy Turkish financial statistics and remarks for consideration. Many of the initial comments were taken from this TDN article.

Year-to-date current account deficit: Rises by 11.6% to $32.758bn in November 2007. The figures for the January-October period were adjusted from $29.06bn to $29.48bn.

12-month trailing current account deficit: Rises to $35.74bn in November from $35.16bn in October 2007 according to Türkiye Ekonomi Bankası (TEB).

Sertan Kargın, chief economist at TEB, said, “We are not concerned about the current account deficit thanks to robust Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) stock, record high foreign exchange reserves, and solid non-debt creating capital inflows.”

TEB key factors driving the current account deficit: “The widening trade gap was mainly due to higher import substitution in intermediate goods, the overvaluation of the Turkish lira, record high oil and commodity prices, private sector capital investments, and the spillover impact of fiscal loosening on domestic demand.”

Global slowdown according to Kargin of TEB: Global growth conditions are the key risk for Turkey’s current account outlook, according to Kargın. "In our view, a consumption-led global slowdown is creating a risk on the current account balance as Turkey’s foreign demand sensitive export industries account for 60% of total exports," Kargın said. "Furthermore, exports are highly sensitive to foreign demand rather than the exchange rate."

FDI in 2006: Almost $20bn in FDI in 2006.

Projected FDI for 2008:
Kargın of TEB: “In 2008, we expect Turkey to raise an additional $20bn to $25bn through FDI, and $4bn to $5bn via global investors’ equity and Turkish lira debt instrument purchases.”

Özgür Altuğ, chief economist, Raymond James, Istanbul: Turkey will probably get $23bn of FDI in 2008. That will finance less than half of a current account gap that’s likely to swell to more than $50bn.

Government Assets and FDI: The recipient of almost two-thirds of foreign investment will likely be the sale of government assets, such as banks, power generation and distribution companies according to Altuğ.

It has also been reported in recent months that the government is trying to accelerate the pace of privatizations.

Sovereign Wealth Funds and FDI: "In the wake of these developments, Economy Minister Mehmet Şimşek traveled to Dubai yesterday to encourage the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund and other sovereign wealth funds to increase their investments in Turkey." (For more, please click here.)

"Government officials had previously said Turkey could attract around $10bn in investment from the Gulf countries, excluding the new Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund, to the real estate, tourism and financial sectors as well as to privatizations." (For more, please click here.)

TUSIAD Remarks: According to the chairwoman of Turkish Industrialists and Businessmen's Association (TUSIAD), Arzuhan Dogan Yalcindag:

“Our growth has slowed down to a large extent and inflation has a relatively upward trend,” she said during an address to a TUSIAD general assembly meeting in Istanbul. “The unemployment rate has begun to increase with high current deficit figures and damaged financial discipline. And unfortunately that is how we are bracing for the upcoming global wave.”

“The world is closing in to a global crisis and 2008 will be a difficult year for Turkey. We need to concentrate all of our energy to economy.” (For more, please click here)

Perhaps the most remarkable issue to emerge from this small assembly of viewpoints is the degree of urgency and weight shouldered by FDI regarding the stability of Turkey's economy in 2008. Turkey needs FDI in order to address its great imbalances in trade. The fact that a government official is openly lobbying for a greater share of the petrodollar FDI pie is rather telling. It also confirms the degree to which the AKP's economic success has been linked to their close ties with the more religiously conservative, petroleum-rich countries. (For further analysis of this political development, please click here.)

Another point worth considering is the two-thirds figure for the amount of total FDI directed towards the sale of state-assets. It is probably quite normal for an emerging market economy like Turkey to attract the majority of FDI in this matter. However, at some point the number of state companies available for auction will dwindle. Ideally, the newly-privatized and traditionally private firms will generate enough new growth to create the market enthusiasm necessary to attract sufficient levels of FDI. However, the transition for state-asset oriented FDI to ultimately represent the minority of overall FDI in Turkey,
instead of the majority, could prove quite difficult in the near term. This will be especially true if the global economy stumbles in the next couple of years and investors decide to retreat to economies with less risk. No wonder Turkey is so keen to attract a portion of the more than $1trn on the table for Saudi Arabia's new sovereign wealth fund.

1 comment:

Sophia Furber said...

Very interesting point about rising Saudi/G.C.C investment and the link with AKP religiousity.. I daresay that this is making a lot of more liberal Turks nervous. But with the global economy in its current state, there are very few Muslim majority nations - with secular constitutions or otherwise - that can afford to say no to the rising tide of Gulf cash