Turkish Lira Hits Record Low After US Says Reviewing Duty-Free Access

August 7, 2018 Updated: August 7, 2018

ISTANBUL—The Turkish lira plunged to a record low on Monday after the Trump administration said it was reviewing Turkey’s duty-free access to the U.S. market, a move that could affect $1.7 billion of Turkish exports.

The U.S. Trade Representative’s (USTR) review, announced on Friday, came after Ankara imposed retaliatory tariffs on U.S. goods in response to American tariffs on steel and aluminum.

The currency has lost 27 percent of its value this year, battered primarily by concerns about President Tayyip Erdogan’s drive for greater control over monetary policy. On Monday, it fell some 5.5 percent to a record low of 5.4250 against the dollar, its biggest single-day drop in nearly 10 years.

In the early hours of Tuesday, it recuperated some of its losses, firming as far as 5.2650 against the dollar, after broadcaster CNN Turk reported that a delegation of Turkish officials would go to Washington to discuss strained relations between the two NATO allies.

The earlier sell-off prompted the central bank to step in and loosen the upper limit of banks’ reserve requirements. However, that did little to prop up the lira, which also hit a record low versus the euro.

A money changer counts U.S. dollar bills, with Turkish lira banknotes in the background, at an currency exchange office in central Istanbul, Turkey, on Aug. 21, 2015. (Reuters/Murad Sezer)

“The best bet now is to expect further weakness in the lira – Turkey really doesn’t need this,” said Per Hammarlund, chief emerging markets strategist at SEB.

“They should be doing more to support the lira, but in my view this will continue for a while longer and the lira will take another beating here.”

Jewelry and Vehicle Parts

The U.S. Trade Representative’s office said the review could affect $1.66 billion worth of Turkish imports into the United States that benefited from the Generalised System of Preferences program last year. They included motor vehicles and parts, jewelery, precious metals and stone products.

It was unclear whether any large, listed Turkish firms would be hit. Auto parts suppliers tend to be smaller, unlisted companies. Istanbul’s main index fell 1.5 percent.

Data from the U.S. International Trade Commission showed that the biggest beneficiary of the duty-free program were auto and auto parts makers, with exports of nearly $250 million last year. That was followed by precious stones and metals, at nearly $210 million.

A USTR spokeswoman said the review was unrelated to the case of Andrew Brunson, an American evangelical pastor who has lived in Turkey for more than two decades and is charged with supporting the group Ankara blames for an attempted coup in 2016. He denies any involvement in the coup attempt.

Relations between the NATO allies have steadily worsened, strained by differences on Syria policy and over Brunson’s trial, exacerbating the sell-off in the lira.

The central bank said its move on the reserve requirements would free up $2.2 billion in liquidity for banks. The central bank could be expected to take similar moves ahead of its next policy meeting on Sept. 13, one forex banker said.

Washington last week imposed sanctions on Erdogan’s justice minister and interior ministers, saying they played leading roles in organizations responsible for Brunson’s arrest.

Erdogan said Turkey would retaliate by freezing assets of the U.S. interior and justice ministers in Turkey “if they have any”.

“For a meaningful recovery in the lira, we’re going to have to watch the news flow,” said another Istanbul-based banker, who declined to be identified.