Mystery grows over Turkey state banks’ rushed private debt sales

Thats the question thats been dominating talk among local economists and investors, with speculation focusing on whether assets from the nations unemployment fund were deployed to boost the lenders capital buffers. The banks havent provided many details, saying the sales were private.

State-controlled Turkiye Vakiflar Bankasi TAO sold TRL 4.99 billion of Tier-1 notes with a fixed-rate coupon payment on a semi-annual basis. Turkiye Halk Bankasi AS sold TRL 2.98 billion in Tier-2 debt and Turkiye Ihracat Kredi Bankasi AS, known as Eximbank, sold TRL 2.9 billion Tier-2 debt last week with a 10-year maturity, completing the sale on the same day it received regulatory approval. All three were sold through private placements and yields havent been announced.

The large transactions come just before the banks reveal their third-quarter accounts and could be an effort to beef up capital adequacy ratios hit by the liras plunge, according to local analysts who asked not to be named, citing the sensitivity of the issue.

Since there was no transparency in the sales, “speculation has spread that the unemployment fund bought those bonds,” Ugur Gurses, an independent economy columnist and former central bank official, wrote on his blog on Sunday. He said regulations should have prevented the fund from investing directly in the state banks bonds, but it could have loaned some of its bond holdings to the banks.

Since the bonds were sold through a private placement, Halkbank wouldnt be able to provide information about the investors and the yield will be announced later, when coupon payments are made, the lender said in response to Bloombergs questions. Vakifbank said it couldnt provide further information beyond its public statement. Eximbank didnt respond to requests for comment.

The unemployment fund referred questions to Iskur, the government agency it reports to, which declined to comment. The Ministry of Family, Labor and Social Service also declined comment on the transactions.

The fund was established in March 2002, and as of August, had TRL 124 billion in assets, which accumulate through mandatory contributions from employees, employers and the state, according to the most recent official data. Bonds make up 89 per cent of those assets while the rest is deposits. Politicians have bickered frequently over whether those funds should be deployed for purposes other than funding unemployment benefits.

Banks across Turkey are being forced to strengthen their capital bases in response to the liras nearly 40 per cent depreciation against the dollar this year, which also threatens to increase defaults by borrowers who took out foreign-currency loans. A sharp rise in interest rates by the central bank has helped the lira pare losses in recent weeks, but also makes it more difficult for local-currency borrowers to service those debts.

In total, the regulator has approved the sale of TRL 18 billion in subordinated debt by various banks, with Turkiye Is Bankasi AS receiving approval to sell TRL 5 billion and Halkbank with approval to issue another TRL 2 billion.

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