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Turkey’s banks, and its economy, stand on the brink

The February currency crisis has left Turkish banks bereft of capital. Disciplines imposed after the December 1999 IMF stand-by agreement mean that they are unable to replenish their reserves in the time-honoured way – by lending to the government. Underlying the sector’s particular problems – the only answer to which seems to lie in consolidation and foreign investment – is a generalized economic quagmire in which flounders a discredited political elite. There is little optimism to be found among those in the know in Turkey and the most pessimistic predict that a third crisis is just around the corner.

Turkish banks are in what must be the closest thing to hell for financial institutions.

The December 1999 stand-by agreement with the IMF has put an end to wild west banking where everyone made pots of money by lending to the state treasury at surrealistic interest rates, many private banks were robbed by their shareholders and state banks served as the politicians' private purse. The Turks must be the only people in the world who have a proverb endorsing corruption. Devletin mali deniz, yemeyen domuz, it runs - "the wealth of the state is as big as the sea and he who does not drink from it is a pig."

For all practical purposes banking was unsupervised. Corrupt ministers quashed efforts by the regulatory body to impose discipline and compliance with laws. In 1994 the government guaranteed all deposits in the system, eliminating the difference between good and bad banks and encouraging depositors to bank with rickety institutions that offered huge interest rates. The system was geared to feed the appetite of the treasury, which had to borrow huge sums at a 30% real interest to finance one of the most corrupt and inefficient political systems in the world.

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