Turkish central bank raises key interest rate to 50% as inflation soars

ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey’s central bank raised its key interest rate by 5 percentage points on Thursday, resuming a policy of rate hikes aimed at combating soaring inflation that is causing households severe economic pain.

In a surprise decision, the central bank said it was raising the benchmark one-week repo rate to 50%. The bank had been widely expected to keep the benchmark rate steady for a second month, ahead of mayoral elections on March 31.

The bank said it had decided to raise the benchmark rate “in response to the deterioration in the inflation outlook.”

“Tight monetary stance will be maintained until a significant and sustained decline in the underlying trend of monthly inflation is observed,” the bank said.

Annual consumer price inflation rose to 67% in February, coming in above expectations. Surging prices have left many families struggling to afford food, rent and utilities.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a long-time proponent of an unorthodox economic policy of slashing interest to tame inflation — a theory that runs contrary to conventional economic thinking. A series of rate cuts by the central bank spurred double-digit inflation and a currency crisis until Erdogan reversed course following his re-election in May and appointed a new economic team.

Under the new team, the central bank had raised the benchmark interest rate from 8.5% in June to 45% in January before pausing the rate hikes last month.

“Although the end of the tightening cycle was declared in January, the Turkish central bank was forced to lift the one-week repo rate from 45% to 50% despite local elections looming,” Bartosz Sawicki, a market analyst at Conotoxia, wrote in an emailed note.

Sawicki said the rate hikes since the May 2023 presidential elections “were not enough to quickly fix imbalances cultivated by years of irresponsible, unorthodox policies.”

The Turkish currency, which has lost some 40% of its value against the dollar in the past year, recovered some ground following Thursday’s decision.

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