Turkey minister sees ‘no economic risk’ amid row with US

Turkey’s Finance Minister Berat Albayrak said his government does not see a big risk to the country’s economy and financial system, amid a diplomatic fall-out with the United States.

Albayrak’s comments, published by Hurriyet newspaper on Wednesday, came after credit rating agency Moody’s downgraded 20 Turkish financial institutions on Tuesday.

“We do not see a big risk about Turkey’s economy and financial system,” the minister was cited as saying when he was asked about the biggest risk for 2019.

He said Turkey’s net public debt and household debt were low and its financial system was very strong, Hurriyet reported.

“Our economy has strong fundamentals. The main point here is for us to examine what our deficiencies are … In this regard, we will realize the required structural reforms,” he said in the interview.

On Tuesday, Moody’s downgraded the financial institutions, saying there were signs of a substantial increase in the risk of a “downside funding scenario”.

It said that Turkey’s operating environment had deteriorated beyond previous expectations.

Moody’s said the downgrade affected 18 banks and two finance companies. It comes amid concerns over the health of the Turkish economy, especially the banking sector, after the lira lost 38 percent of its value this month.

The downgrades prompted a new slide in the lira, which lost 2.2 percent against the dollar to trade at 6.3 on Tuesday.

‘Enemy of interest rates’

Moody’s, along with fellow ratings giant Standard and Poor’s, had earlier this month already cut the debt rating of the Turkish government further on the same concerns.

A subsequent sell-off in the lira has raised concerns about the effect on the broader economy – given Turkey’s reliance on dollar-denominated energy imports – and a possible surge in bad loans in the banking sector.

US President Donald Trump this month authorised a doubling of duties on aluminium and steel imported from Turkey, triggering retaliatory measures from Ankara.

Andrew Brunson, a US pastor, is at the centre of the dispute between Ankara and Washington, as he is kept in prison in Turkey on terrorism charges.

Investors are also worried by a US Treasury investigation into state-owned Turkish lender Halkbank, which could face a potentially hefty fine over allegations of busting sanctions on Iran.

The bank has said all its transactions were legal.

Turkey and the US are also at odds over their diverging interests in Syria and US objections to Ankara’s plan to buy Russian defence systems.

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