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Anders Faergemann, a money manager at PineBridge Investments, which oversees more than $80 billion in assets, calls it the best potential boost for Turkey’s economy.
Considering the magnitude of the blow dealt to Turkey’s tourism industry over the past two years, it’s not hard to see why. Back-to-back political convulsions kept foreigner visitors away and drove annual hard-currency inflows from foreign visitors to a decade-low $18.2 billion in March.
So with a period of relative political stability and security returning, investors will be parsing tourism data for signs that cash is about to start flowing back in again. While some have started calling the bottom, those looking for a recovery solid enough to help support the lira — the worst performing emerging-market currency over the past year — may find little to get excited about just yet. The locomotive of the industry is still missing.
“I need to see European tourists coming back because they were the ones bringing in the big bucks,” said Cristian Maggio, head of emerging-market research at TD Securities in London. “And I doubt it will happen over the foreseeable future.”
There are signs the worst is probably over: a political spat with Russia sparked by a downed Russian jet has been patched up, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is firmly in charge again after last summer’s coup attempt, and the last major terror attack in January is now just a tragic memory. But German and U.K. visitors, who together made up more than 20 percent of the total in 2015, are still finding other places to go on holiday.
While year-on-year tourist arrivals have increased for five straight months, visitors from those two European countries are still down 30 percent in the January-to-August period compared to 2015, according to data from Turkey’s Culture and Tourism ministry. That’s more than outweighed the surge in Russian visitors, leaving total foreign arrivals down 14 percent from last year.
It’s as much of a problem for growth as it is for the currency. Absent inflows of foreign currency from tourism, the economy’s growing financing needs amid a fiscal splurge and domestic lending boom mean local demand for dollars and euros may keep weighing on the lira.
Resident investors spent much of this year accumulating $25.8 billion of hard currency, boosting their euro and dollar holdings to a record. Turkey’s lira, which recouped as much as 14 percent against the dollar from a record low in January, is still down 1.5 percent for the year. It fell to a fresh record against the euro last week.
Meanwhile, the country’s current account deficit is due to expand to 4.7 percent of output this year, according to the International Monetary Fund. That’s the widest gap among the Group of 20 nations, a predicament compounded by a reliance on portfolio inflows, which are often short-term in nature and can reverse quickly, to finance it.
None of this stopped some investors from taking a punt on the lira. TD Securities’ Maggio is advising clients to stay invested for now. But “this is a tactical, not strategic view,” driven by attractive interest returns, he said by email on Friday.
That view is echoed by PineBridge’s Faergemann, who holds Turkish short-term bonds. “It’s more of a carry trade than an FX trade,” he said in an interview from London last week. It wasn’t a position “we were expecting fireworks from,” he said.