UPDATE 1-Turkish lira tumbles as investors fret over depleted buffer

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ISTANBUL, May 6 (Reuters) – Turkey’s lira tumbled 1.4% on Wednesday and neared an all-time low hit during a 2018 currency crisis after a regulator clamped down further on foreign access to local markets, exacerbating investors’ concerns over depleted reserves.

The selloff – the worst since mid-April – came ahead of a high-stakes conference call set for 1300 GMT between foreign investors and Finance Minister Berat Albayrak that could further move markets, analysts said.

The lira slipped for a fifth straight session and stood at 7.1615 against dollar at 0901 GMT, from 7.065 the day before. Headed toward a record low of 7.24, it was the worst performer among major emerging market tmsnrt.rs/2L0WDGU currencies.

The central bank’s net FX reserves tmsnrt.rs/3bOJYmo have fallen sharply to nearly $25 billion from $40 billion this year. Analysts say that is largely due to its funding of state bank interventions to stabilize the lira, which has nonetheless fallen 17% so far this year.

Compounding worries, Turkey faces a relatively high $170 billion in external debt costs this year.

“They are trying to achieve too many things at once – they are trying to keep rates low and the currency stable, and they don’t have the reserves,” said Peter Kisler, EM portfolio manager at North Asset Management.

“The one thing that is stopping me from being more bearish is the possibility of still getting a swap line from the Federal Reserve,” he said.

As they try to address the cash crunch, Turkish authorities have reached out to the Fed and other central banks to seek a possible currency swap facility. But no deal has been announced and any deal with the Fed would require Turkey to meet several tough monetary and financial requirements.

Late on Tuesday, the BDDK banking watchdog said it would limit lira transactions between Turkish banks and foreign financial institutions to 0.5% of the local lenders’ legal capital, from 1%.

Last month the BDDK cut the limit to 1% from 10%. The moves are meant to ensure local financing needs are met amid a slowdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, it said.

Turkey is starting to slowly ease some measures taken to curb the pandemic, which have severely slowed trade, tourism and spending, pushing its economy into an expected second recession in less than two years.

The last downturn was sparked by a currency crisis that in August of 2018 sent the lira to its weakest level yet.

Turkey “needs a new forex injection” so investors are watching for that and for fallout from gradually reopening the economy from coronavirus-related measures, said a bank treasury official who requested anonymity.

“The lira is heading towards an extremely low value place. Any steps that reduce convertibility will be negative in the medium term if they are lasting beyond their short-term effects,” the banker said.

Albayrak’s call – hosted by banks Citigroup and Societe Generale and closed to the press – could also move markets, analysts and bankers said.

“It could be the most important conference call in his career as stakes could not be higher,” said Piotr Matys at Rabobank.

“The country is rapidly running out of FX reserves despite desperate measures to boost them via FX swaps and tightening offshore lira liquidity.”

Reporting by Jonathan Spicer, Nevzat Devranoglu and Karin
Strohecker; Editing by Dominic Evans and Giles Elgood

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