Amid sanction fears, Turkish economy under stress

Economists told Arab News that the economic impact of the sanctions package would depend on the final decision by Trump and on the strength of the Turkish economy. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 12 December 2019

Amid sanction fears, Turkish economy under stress

  • In Ankara, there is a growing concern that the green light for the implementation of CAATSA sanctions may be given in a few months

ANKARA: Following intense debates in the US Senate, economists and investors held their collective breath to watch possible signs about the determination of the White House to apply Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) sanctions against Turkey.

On Wednesday, a sanctions bill against Turkey passed in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with a 18-4 vote, and it is now up to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring it to the Senate. The bill, among other measures, aims to accelerate the implementation of  CAATSA within 180 days.

If the bill passes, then it will be brought to the House of Representatives for a vote. And if it gets the green light there, US President Donald Trump would have to either sign or veto it.

There is also a possibility to override a veto. For this to happen, each chamber of Congress votes on a bill vetoed by the president, with a two-thirds majority in both negating the veto.

In Ankara, there is a growing concern that the green light for the implementation of CAATSA sanctions may be given in a few months.

Economists told Arab News that the economic impact of the sanctions package would depend on the final decision by Trump and on the strength of the Turkish economy.

If Trump chooses the least damaging five items on the 12-item sanctions menu, the economy is expected to withstand the pressure to a certain extent. However, sanctions such as prohibitions on banking transactions would significantly harm the economy’s fragile dynamics. A harsher set of sanctions could stop access to the SWIFT international banking system.

CAATSA requires US banks to deny services from foreign banks that do business with blacklisted individuals or entities, even if the transactions do not enter into the US jurisdiction.

The Turkish economy grew 0.9 percent year-on-year in the third quarter, overcoming the period of recession which followed last year’s currency crisis in August with a 30 percent slide in the lira, increasing inflation and interest rates. The currency crisis was mainly triggered by the tension between Ankara and Washington.

But amid this rosy picture of economic recovery, economists underline that there is still need for reforms to restore confidence among investors, with many warning that 2020 could be challenging.

In recent months, the mass suicides of three families drew attention to the severe financial problems in many households.

Timothy Ash, a London-based senior emerging markets strategist at Bluebay Asset Management, pointed out two options regarding impending CAATSA sanctions: Either sanctions will be light or stalled by Trump, or the economy is much more resilient and able to withstand them.

“But I am not sure this is entirely correct,” he told Arab News, adding: “The weak spot is external financing and banks. Anything which limits banks’ access to dollar markets will be very painful. Less external financing means higher borrowing costs and lower growth, it might also need a weaker currency.”

According to Ash, Halkbank looks vulnerable as it seems to be mentioned in all the various sanctions bills and is also subject of the Southern District of New York’s legal case.

“The question is whether sanctions on Halkbank cause concern about knock on effects to other banks,” he said.

State-run Halkbank was charged by US prosecutors with being part of a scheme to help Iran evade US sanctions.

But, Wolfango Piccoli, co-president of Teneo Intelligence in London, thinks that the risk of enacting CAATSA sanctions will increase when Turkey activates the S-400s.

As a law ratified by the US Congress two years ago, CAATSA mandates the Trump administration to bring sanctions on countries that have transactions with the Russian defense industry. Turkey began receiving the parts of the S-400 systems in July and in late November it tested radar-detection equipment in Ankara.

“As for the possible impact on the Turkish economy, this will depend on multiple factors, including the type of sanctions that will be selected among 12 possible measures, the reaction of Turkey and prevailing market conditions at that time,” Piccoli told Arab News.

Microsoft says Iranian hackers targeted conference attendees

Updated 16 min 32 sec ago

Microsoft says Iranian hackers targeted conference attendees

REDMOND, Washington: Microsoft says Iranian hackers have posed as conference organizers in Germany and Saudi Arabia in an attempt to break into the email accounts of “high-profile” people with spoofed invitations.
The tech company said Wednesday it detected attempts by the hacking group it calls Phosphorus to trick former government officials, policy experts and academics.
The targets included more than 100 prominent people invited by the hackers to the Munich Security Conference, which is attended by world leaders each February, and the upcoming Think 20 Summit, which begins later this week in Saudi Arabia but is online-only this year.
“We believe Phosphorus is engaging in these attacks for intelligence collection purposes,” said Tom Burt, Microsoft’s security chief, in a prepared statement. “The attacks were successful in compromising several victims, including former ambassadors and other senior policy experts who help shape global agendas and foreign policies in their respective countries.”
Microsoft didn’t identify the nationalities of the people targeted. It said the activity is unrelated to the upcoming US elections.
Wednesday’s announcement refers to the hacking group as an “Iranian actor” but doesn’t explicitly tie it to the Iranian government. Microsoft calls it Phosphorus, while others call it APT35 or Charming Kitten.
The Redmond, Washington tech company has been tracking the group since 2013 and has previously accused it of trying to snoop on activists, journalists, political dissidents, defense industry workers and others in the Middle East.
Cybersecurity researchers have said the group typically tries to infiltrate a target’s personal online accounts and computer networks by luring them into clicking on a link to a compromised website or opening a malicious attachment.