Forbes: Why The Worst Is Still Ahead For Turkey’s Bubble Economy

The explosive rise of Turkey’s economy in the past decade is one of the most fascinating growth stories of all time. Since 2002, Turkey’s economy nearly quadrupled in size on the back of an epic boom in consumption and construction that led to the building of countless malls, skyscrapers, and ambitious infrastructure projects.

Like many emerging economies in the past decade, Turkey’s economy continued to grow virtually unabated through the Global Financial Crisis, while most Western economies stagnated.

Unfortunately, like most emerging market nations, Turkey’s economic boom has devolved into a dangerous bubble that is similar to the bubbles that caused the downfall of Western economies just six years ago. Though Turkey has received significant attention after its currency and financial markets fell sharply in the past year, there is still very little awareness of the country’s economic bubble itself and its frightening implications.

Turkish flag Turkish flag (Photo credit: quinn.anya)

The emerging markets bubble began in 2009, shortly after China pursued an aggressive credit-driven infrastructure-based growth strategy to boost its economy during the global financial crisis. China’s economic growth immediately surged as construction activity increased dramatically, which drove a global raw materials boom that created a windfall for commodities exporting countries such as Australia and emerging markets. Emerging markets’ improving fortunes began to attract the attention of global investors who were seeking to diversify away from Western nations that were at the epicenter of the financial crisis. As the bubble progressed, even developing countries that were not significant commodities exporters (such as Turkey) began to benefit from the growing interest in this investment theme.

Rock-bottom interest rates in the U.S., Europe, and Japan, combined with the U.S. Federal Reserve’s multi-trillion dollar quantitative easing programs, encouraged a $4 trillion torrent of speculative “hot money” to flow into emerging market investments over the last several years. A global carry trade arose in which investors borrowed at low interest rates from the U.S. and Japan, invested the funds in high-yielding emerging market assets, and pocketed the interest rate differential or spread. Soaring demand for EM assets led to a bond bubble and ultra-low borrowing costs, which resulted in government-driven infrastructure booms, alarmingly fast credit growth, and property bubbles in numerous developing nations.

Like many other emerging nations, Turkey’s economic boom since the financial crisis has been heavily predicated upon a combination of foreign “hot money” inflows, ultra-low interest rates across the yield curve, rapid credit growth, and soaring asset prices. The charts of Turkey’s benchmark interest rate and three-month interbank rate show how they were cut to all-time lows in the years following the financial crisis:

Turkey Benchmark Interest RateTurkey Interbank Interest Rate

Turkey’s idiosyncratic monetary policy of the past half-decade was responsible for these unusually low interest rates: Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s Prime Minister, believes that a zero real interest rate policy is the best practical implementation of sharia law’s ban on usury, or lending for interest, for modern Islamic societies.

“We aim to cut the real interest rate in the long run, so people will increase their incomes through working, not through interest,” he said in 2011. “Eventually we aim to equalize the interest rate and inflation rate.”

Turkey’s Economic “Miracle” Is Driven By A Credit Bubble

Ultra-low interest rates are, of course, notorious for creating temporary economic booms that are driven by credit and asset bubbles – a fact that likely wasn’t lost on Erdoğan, who vowed to make Turkey one of the world’s ten largest economies by 2023. Loans to Turkey’s private sector have more than quadrupled since 2008, even though the country’s real GDP only increased by approximately a third (and a good portion of that GDP increase was driven by debt):


Turkey’s M3 money supply – a broad measure of total money and credit in the economy – shows a similar ominous increase:


The emerging markets bond bubble enabled a corporate borrowing spree that caused Turkey’s external debt, or debt owed to foreign creditors, to surge to a record high of U.S.$372.6 billion or nearly 47 percent of the country’s GDP.


90 percent of Turkish corporate debt is denominated in foreign currencies, which dangerously exposes the country’s corporate borrowers to weakness in the Turkish lira currency, which is down by over 18 percent against the U.S. dollar in the past year:

TurkeyForeignDebt (2)

Even more worrisome is the fact that U.S. $129.1 billion, or just over a third, of Turkey’s external debt is short-term debt that will come due in the next year, which is a sharp increase from the country’s short-term external debt of U.S. $100.6 billion at the end of 2012, and U.S. $52.52 billion external debt in 2008. Turkey’s short-term and long-term external debt have both increased at a faster rate than economic growth in the past half-decade. Having a large stock of short-term external debt makes economies more vulnerable to rising interest rates, as many emerging market nations have experienced in the past year after the U.S. Federal Reserve’s QE taper plans surfaced. Turkey’s short-term external debt burden exceeds 100 percent of its currency reserves, making it one of the highest risk emerging economies based on this metric.

One of the reasons for Turkey’s rapid accumulation of external debt in the past decade has been the need to finance its growing current account deficit, which the country’s economy has become increasingly reliant upon to continue growing:


Turkey’s current account deficit to GDP ratio has swelled to over 6 percent – a level that has led to currency crises in the past:


Turkey’s Consumption Boom Is Actually A Bubble

Accounting for 70 percent of Turkey’s GDP, consumer spending has been the country’s primary engine of economic growth in the past decade. Unfortunately, much of this consumer spending has been financed by debt, as with many other areas of Turkey’s economy. Personal loans grew at a scorching 61 percent average annual rate from 2005 to 2008 and barely slowed down after the financial crisis, while loans to households were increasing at a 28 percent annual rate in 2013. Credit is so free-flowing in Turkey that consumers are even able to receive approvals for personal loans via text message and ATM machines.

In addition to personal loans, credit card debt has played a significant role in enabling Turkey’s consumption boom, with credit card loans from the country’s leading banks having risen by 77 percent from 2010 to mid-2013. Turkey’s 74 million citizens now own 57 million credit cards and carry approximately $45 billion in outstanding credit card debt – nearly a third of which is considered to be nonperforming. Turkish consumers’ embrace of debt-driven consumption has caused household debt as a proportion of disposable income to rocket from 4.7 percent in 2002 to 50.4 percent in 2012.

As is common in low interest rate and credit bubble environments, Turkey’s consumption boom has been abetted by a savings rate that has fallen to its lowest level in at least three decades, which places Turkey dead last among fourteen other developing countries for this metric. An IMF study found that the average developing country has a savings rate of 33.5 percent, which is nearly triple Turkey’s 12.6 percent savings rate.

The combination of Turkey’s falling savings rate and credit binge has helped to propel the country’s consumer spending to an all-time high in the past decade:


Turkish consumers have focused much of their discretionary spending on goods such as automobiles, consumer electronics, and household appliances. Numerous foreign multinational corporations have flocked to Turkey to profit from the country’s spending boom.

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About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar 39 yıllık gazeteci. Mesleğe İsveç Radyosu'nda muhabir olarak başladı, oradan TV ve yazılı basına geçti. Sırasıyla Cumhuriyet İsveç muhabirliği, BBC Türkçe Servisi'nde yapımcı-sunuculuk, Yeni Yüzyıl'da dış haberler servis şefliği, Milliyet'te editörlük yaptı. 1999 yılı başında Milliyet Okur Temsilcisi olarak, medyada kurumsal bir 'özdenetim' yapısı olan ombudsmanlığı Türkiye'ye tanıtan ve ilk uygulayan kişi oldu. Bu görevi Milliyet ardından Sabah'ta da sürdürdü. Toplam 15 yıl süren bu görevi nedeniyle dünyanın en kıdemli ve 'uzman' ombudsmanlarından biri sayılıyor. Baydar, merkezi ABD'de bulunan Dünya Medya Ombudsmanları Örgütü'nde (ONO) başkanlık ve yürütme kurulu üyeliğini de üstlendi. Türkiye'ye döndüğü 1990'lı yılların ortasından bu yana çeşitli TV kanallarında başta Soru-Cevap olmak üzere çok sayıda analiz-tartışma programını hazırlayıp sunmuş olan Baydar, düzenli olarak Süddeutsche Zeitung ve The Arab Weekly için yorumlar yazmakta. Baydar, Ocak 2014'te bir grup meslektaşı ile beraber medya bağımsızlığı ve özgürlüğü alanında çalışmalar yürütmek üzere Bağımsız Gazetecilik Platformu'nun (P24) kurucu üyeleri arasında yer aldı. 2000 yılında 'Okur Temsilcisi' olarak yaptığı çalışmalar nedeniyle Çağdaş Gazeteciler Derneği'nin (ÇGD) Özel Ödülü'ne layık bulunan Baydar, 2014 yılında da, Avrupa'nın 'Pulitzer'i sayılan Avrupa Basın Ödülü'nü (EPP) 'meslekte mükemmeliyet' tanımlamasıyla aldı. 2004'te Michigan Üniversitesi'nde Knight-Wallace Araştırma Bursu ile 'Ortadoğu, demokrasi ve medya' konulu mesleki çalışmalar yapan Baydar, 2014 sonbaharında da Harvard Üniversitesi'ne bağlı Kennedy School'da 'Shorenstein Fellow' olarak Türkiye medyasında sansürün ve mali yozlaşmanın yayılmasını ele alan uzun bir rapor yayınladı. Baydar ayrıca Guardian, El Pais, New York Times gibi gazetelere de aralıklı olarak yorum ve analiz makaleleri yazıyor.
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Forbes: Why The Worst Is Still Ahead For Turkey’s Bubble Economy için 2 cevap

  1. Geri bildirim: Turkey (updated May 7) - CVA Source

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