(Bloomberg) — Turkish state lenders flooded the market with dollars on Thursday to help take the edge off a deepening lira rout amid concern the country is edging closer to a military conflict with Russian-backed forces in Syria.
Government-owned lenders sold an estimated $800 million on Thursday to help stabilize the lira, according to two traders with knowledge of the matter. The transactions helped contain losses in the Turkish currency, which slipped 0.4% to a nine-month low of 6.1079 per dollar. Benchmark bond yields rose above 12% and the Borsa Istanbul 100 stock index dropped the most in the world.
The market jitters come as Turkey asked the U.S. to deploy two Patriot missile-defense batteries on its southern border to help deter future attacks by Syrian forces, according to a senior Turkish official. The Defense Ministry said two Turkish troops were killed and five wounded in an air strike in Syria’s Idlib on Thursday.
Turkey is trying to halt a Russian-backed Syrian government advance that’s threatening its efforts to establish a zone of control in the last rebel stronghold near its border. On Wednesday, the government issued its harshest warning yet to Russia, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan saying a military operation in Idlib is “just a matter of time.”
“This is getting dangerous,” said Timothy Ash, a strategist at Bluebay Asset Management in London.
The face-off risks compounding a sell-off in Turkish assets, which are already reeling in the face of a resurgent dollar and an easing cycle that has pushed real interest rates below zero and driven the current-account balance back into a deficit. Turkey’s central bank reduced its key rate to 10.75% from 11.25% on Wednesday, the sixth straight easing move.
‘Smoke and Mirrors’
To help stem the rout, state banks have been intervening on the currency market by selling dollars. Authorities have also restricted swap transactions to make it difficult for foreign investors to bet against the lira.
“It makes people feel uncomfortable when the state owned banks seem to be in the market every day now selling FX but the lira continues to weaken,” Ash said. There’s a “general unease about the smoke and mirrors policy settings.”
The currency trimmed some its decline and was trading at 6.1047 per dollar as of 8:03 p.m. in Istanbul. The Borsa Istanbul 100 Index closed the day down 3%, led lower by the nation’s largest listed lenders. The yield on the 10-year government bond jumped 37 basis points, the most since October.
(Updates prices throughout, adds detail on current-account balance in 6th paragraph, analyst quote in 7th paragraph)
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