Bulgarian buyers flood Turkey as the lira drops

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By Mehmet Guzel | Associated press

EDIRNE, Turkey – Bulgarian shoppers cross Turkey’s western border in overcrowded cars and buses, taking advantage of the sinking Turkish lira to fuel their own shopping spree.

Your first stop is the money exchange and then it goes to the markets and grocery stores in the north-west Turkish city of Edirne.

On Christmas Eve, the city’s Turkish market square was full of buyers from Bulgaria. Hatice Ahmedova said she left at 3 a.m. to get on a bus that would take her across the border to Edirne, exchanged 200 Bulgarian levs for 1,150 Turkish liras and started shopping.

Gulfiye Osinova, 60, was also there to get presents for her children and grandchildren. Bulgaria is much more expensive.

Turkey is in the midst of an economic crisis with official inflation numbers over 21% affecting food, fuel and household items prices. But for Bulgarian buyers, the grocery stores are a bargain and they leave the country with their suitcases packed.

The lira experienced its most volatile month in December, depreciating almost daily, eventually hitting an all-time low of 18.36 against the US dollar on December 20, as the Turkish currency lost more than 60% of its value against the dollar that year . Tourists have benefited from this currency collapse.

The lira has since rebounded after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced new financial instruments to protect lira deposits against currency fluctuations, closing the week at 10.83 against the dollar.

Bülent Reisoglu, president of the Ulus bazaar cooperative in Edirne, said the number of foreigners has quadrupled in recent weeks.

“The parking lots are full of Bulgarian cars, it has become almost impossible to see the license plates of Edirne or Istanbul,” he said. “(They) shop like they are crazy not knowing what they are buying and buy five or ten of them with the logic of selling it or thinking that they will never find it.”

Buyers also came from neighboring Greece who exchanged euros for lira. One shopper, Esra Molla, said she was happy to buy gifts for her family and herself.

Despite last week’s rally in the lira, the Turkish national currency has still lost nearly 40% of its value this year, sparked by Erdogan’s insistence on cutting rates, which currently stand at 14%. Established economic theory holds that high inflation can be lowered by raising interest rates, but Erdogan argues otherwise. As part of his new economic program, Erdogan wants cheap loans, high exports and great growth.

With Turks waiting in long lines for bread in the cold this month, the decline in their purchasing power amid price hikes is painfully visible. Erdogan has urged Turkish companies to cut their prices while the lira stabilizes, but there are still no signs that they will soon replace the hordes of Bulgarian buyers in Edirne.

Zeynep Bilginsoy and Robert Badendieck contributed from Istanbul.

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