Turkey on Wednesday postponed fiscal reforms, giving the government leeway to spend ahead of an election due next year but sparking warnings from rating agencies that key deficit-reduction plans may get diluted.
Investors had expected Ankara to introduce the reforms -- which set clearly defined medium-term targets for growth and debt reduction -- in time for the 2011 budget after it chose not to enter a new standby loan agreement with the International Monetary Fund earlier this year.
But Industry Minister Nihat Ergun was quoted by the state-run Anatolian news agency as saying the targets would not form the basis for next year's budget, though they would be used for 2012.
Analysts and all three main rating agencies -- which had suggested the reforms would underpin the country's efforts to attain investment grade debt status -- expressed unease at the comments, which sent local markets lower.
"The budget for 2011 will not be formed in accordance with the fiscal rule," Ergun was quoted as saying.
Markets reacted bearishly, though global trends played a part. The benchmark bond yield rose to 8.46 percent from a previous close of 8.33 percent, and the lira eased to 1.5110 against the dollar from 1.4980.
The main stock exchange index fell 1.09 percent.
"A looser fiscal stance would adversely affect Turkey's credit fundamentals, not only because of the impact on debt and deficit metrics, but also because it makes problems such as external imbalances, private sector crowding out, and inflationary pressures harder to contain," Sarah Carlson, Senior Analyst with Moody's, said.
After a deep recession last year, the economy is expected to grow around 6 percent in 2010. Unemployment has decrease to around 12 percent in recent months, feeding government's hopes on a return to strong economic growth.
The fiscal rule had envisaged cutting the budget deficit to 1 percent of gross domestic product in 10 years and reducing public debt to about 30 percent of GDP in five to 10 years.
But government sources told Reuters the parameters of the fiscal rule could now be loosened.
Some government ministers are seeking to raise a budget deficit/gross domestic product ratio of 1 percent under the fiscal rule to 3 percent, as set by the European Union's Maastricht criteria, sources said.
"This rate (budget deficit/GDP ratio) could be 2 percent or the EU goal of 3 percent and this would be a more appropriate step in terms of contributing to growth. The requests are mainly for 3 percent," said a senior official.
"There are (also) officials in the AK Party who take this view," he said, adding the final decision was Erdogan's.
Rating agencies Standard & Poor's and Fitch on Wednesday both aired concern that the delay in introducing fiscal reforms could point to a looser fiscal stance in 2011.
The government failed to pass the reform bill through parliament as initially scheduled before the summer recess in July.
But Finance Minister Mehmet Simsek said last week Turkey was observing an "implicit" fiscal rule, and the first six months' budget data showed it was on track to meet end-2010 targets.
The government aims to cut the budget deficit/GDP ratio from 5.5 percent of GDP last year to 4.9 percent in 2010, 4.0 percent in 2011 and 3.2 percent in 2012.
Ed Parker, head of emerging Europe sovereigns at Fitch agency, said delaying the legislation would hurt credibility, but performance mattered more.
"The path of the budget deficit and government debt-to-GDP ratio are likely to be important drivers of future rating actions," Parker said. "The passing or non-passing of rules alone will not."