Turkish currency and debt crisis, 2018

The Turkish currency and debt crisis of 2018 (Turkish: Türkiye döviz ve borç krizi) is an ongoing financial crisis in Turkey with international repercussions due to financial contagion. It is characterized by the Turkish lira plunging in value, high inflation, rising borrowing costs, and correspondingly rising loan defaults. The crisis was caused by the Turkish economy's excessive current account deficit and foreign-currency debt, in combination with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's increasing authoritarianism and his unorthodox ideas about interest rate policy.[1][2]

Current account deficit and foreign-currency debt

A longstanding characteristic of Turkey's economy is a low savings rate.[3] Since Recep Tayyip Erdoğan assumed control of the government, Turkey has been running huge and growing current account deficits, $33.1 billion in 2016 and $47.3 billion in 2017,[4] climbing to US$7.1 billion in the month of January 2018 with the rolling 12-month deficit rising to $51.6 billion,[5] one of the largest current account deficits in the world.[3] The economy has relied on capital inflows to fund private-sector excess, with Turkey’s banks and big firms borrowing heavily, often in foreign currencies.[3] Under these conditions, Turkey must find approximately $200 billion a year to fund its wide current account deficit and maturing debt, while being always at risk of inflows drying up; the state has gross foreign currency reserves of just $85 billion.[2]

The economic policy underlying these trends had increasingly been micro-managed by Erdoğan since 2008 and strongly so since 2013, with a focus on the construction industry, state-awarded contracts and stimulus measures, while neglecting education and research and development.[6] The motive for these policies have been described as Erdoğan losing faith in Western-style capitalism since the 2008 financial crisis by the secretary general of the main Turkish business association, TUSIAD.[6]

Investment inflows had already been declining in the period leading up to the crisis, owing to Erdoğan instigating political disagreements with countries that were major sources of such inflows (such as Germany, France, and the Netherlands),[1] amid worries about the rule of law in Turkey after the 2016 coup attempt that prompted the government to seize the assets of those with even tangential ties to the coup,[1] and worries about the lira, the decreased value of which threatens to eat into investors' profit margins.[1] Investment inflows have also declined because Erdoğan's increasing authoritarianism has quelled free and factual reporting by financial analysts in Turkey.[7]

By the end of 2017, the corporate foreign-currency debt in Turkey had more than doubled since 2009, up to $214 billion after netting against their foreign-exchange assets.[8] Turkey's gross external debt, both public and private, stood at $453.2 billion at the end of 2017.[9] As of March 2018, $181.8 billion of external debt, public and private, was due to mature within a year.[10] Non-resident holdings of domestic shares stood at $53.3 billion in early March and at $39.6 billion in mid-May, and non-resident holdings of domestic government bonds stood at $32.0 billion in early March and at $24.7 billion in mid-May.[11]