Economy

As lira crisis raged, Turkish banks were cashing in their gold

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Monday 17, September 2018

(Bloomberg)--Commercial lenders in Turkey have pulled as much as $4.5 billion worth of gold reserves since mid-June to avert a liquidity crisis as the lira plunged.

Weekly holdings reported by the Central Bank of Turkey fell by almost a fifth since June 15 to 15.5 million ounces with the lion’s share—$3.3 billion—of the exodus sparked by the monetary authority’s move on 13 August to lower reserve requirements.

“The commercial banks were probably switching to more liquid assets, given what has happened to the lira,” Jason Tuvey, a senior emerging markets economist at Capital Economics in London said by phone on Friday. “There’s been concern at the commercial banks over their external debt burden, which has been reflected in the rising bank bond yields.”

Turkish lenders can meet reserve requirements with bullion deposits, unlike in most other countries.

Turkey is one of the 20 largest sovereign owners of the precious metal and boasts the fifth-biggest consumer demand in the world, according to 2017 data from the World Gold Council. It refines scrap gold into jewellery sold all over the Middle East.

The central bank cut the reserve requirements for banks by four percentage points for foreign exchange liabilities over one, two and three years, and by 2.5 percentage points over other maturities. This equated to $3 billion worth of dollar-equivalent gold liquidity, it said in a statement.

“The most drastic drop appeared in August when the lira gold crisis was at its peak,” Cagdas Kuckemiroglu, Turkey-based consultant for Metals Focus said by email. “Whether the sell-off continues will depend on how the market reacts to yesterday’s interest rate change.”

Policy makers increased the one-week repo rate by 625 basis points on Thursday to 24 per cent, more than economists expected. The hike helped to arrest an almost 40-per cent swoon in the lira this year.

Of the $118 billion in short-term debts due by September 2019, 15 per cent accrues to publicly owned banks, and 44 per cent to private financial institutions, according to Nora Neuteboom, an ABN Amro Group NV economist who specialises in Turkey.

The banks borrow on international markets in hard currencies, hedging dollar liabilities with gold deposits rather than the volatile lira, even though their loan assets are denominated in lira.

“But, of course, you can’t repay your debt in gold, so they’re probably selling to shore up finances for when their debt becomes due,” Neuteboom said.

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