April 12, 2019 / 1:28 PM / 2 months ago

UPDATE 1-Turkey's Albayrak leaves investors unconvinced in Washington -sources

(Adds Moody's, election context, updates markets)

By Jonathan Spicer and Humeyra Pamuk

ISTANBUL/WASHINGTON, April 12 (Reuters) - Turkish Finance Minister Berat Albayrak offered little convincing detail of his economic turnaround plan and failed to enthuse investors at a private meeting in Washington on Thursday, according to four people who attended.

Some 400 investors packed into a room at a Washington hotel, with dozens standing at the back, as Albayrak and Turkish central bank governor Murat Cetinkaya outlined the reform package that Albayrak unveiled in Istanbul on Wednesday.

With the Turkish lira wobbling and investor confidence being eroded, committing to a convincing set of long-term reforms was seen among Turkey's best opportunities to revive an economy plagued by recession and high inflation.

But Albayrak's upbeat view of Turkey's expected rebound failed to resonate in Washington, said the sources, who requested anonymity. One told Reuters that Albayrak pointed to a recent dip in prices and the improving current account balance to argue that Turkey was doing much better today than in October, when it was emerging from a major currency crisis.

"I don't think he persuaded anybody, it did not go well," said the investor, who attended the conference hosted by investment bank JPMorgan as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank spring meetings kicked off in Washington.

The investor said recent pivots to more supportive policy stances by the U.S. Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank, which have led investors to seek returns in riskier assets, was helping to underpin Turkish markets.

"If it weren't the case that the Fed and ECB currently present no risk to emerging markets, I would be a big seller of Turkey," the investor said.

The lira slid as much as 1.4 percent on Friday, among the worst performers in emerging markets, and the main Turkish stock index was down.

Turkey's finance ministry could not be reached for comment on Thursday's presentation, while the central bank declined to comment.

The recent lira volatility began with a sharp sell-off ahead of nationwide local elections on March 31 that handed shock losses in big cities to President Tayyip Erdogan's ruling AK Party. It is contesting initial results in Istanbul.

The selling at times echoed last year's full-blown currency crisis, which was sparked by strained U.S. diplomatic ties and worries over central bank independence and a years-long buildup of foreign currency debt.

The lira tumbled some 30 percent in 2018, causing the economy to tip into a recession that economists expect will extend at least into the second half of this year.

'MORE NEEDS TO BE DONE'

On Wednesday, before travelling to Washington for the IMF/World Bank meetings, Albayrak pledged to inject nearly $5 billion in new capital into banks struggling with a spike in non-performing loans.

But analysts said the long-awaited reform package, which also included promises on taxes and exports, did not go far enough to mark an unambiguous break from years of credit-fuelled growth. On Friday, credit ratings agency Moody's said the plan lacked detail and was vague on a timetable.

Two investors at the invitation-only presentation in Washington said Turkey's needed to better articulate the government's longer-term vision for market participants.

But Albayrak, who is Erdogan's son-in-law, mostly restated the reform package, while Cetinkaya contributed little during the hour-long presentation, they said.

"I don't think anybody left having changed their ideas about Turkey, or be more hopeful about it than they were yesterday," said a second investor as he left the conference.

A third attendee said: "There has been a general sense among investors that more needs to be done to restore Turkey's credibility and there was not much change from that."

Uncertainty over the Istanbul election outcome has added to investors' jitters, as have a series of stop-gap government efforts late last month -- including the launch of a probe into JP Morgan's investment advice to clients -- to support the lira.

Late on Thursday, Albayrak tweeted: "We explained our 'Structural Reform Steps' package and the economic policies of the new period at the investor meeting organised by JP Morgan," The finance minister also said he had held meetings in Washington with "many international funds". (Reporting by Jonathan Spicer in Istanbul and Humeyra Pamuk in Washington; Additional reporting by Rodrigo Campos in Washington and Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara; Editing by Catherine Evans)

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