Turkey's rich battle against the global tide

By bne IntelliNews February 12, 2008

Bernard Kennedy in Ankara -

Newly-published statistics are providing fresh insights into Turkey's fabled wealth - not the lost kingdom of Midas or the stolen treasures of Croesus, but the more recently-amassed assets of today's most fortunate inhabitants. According to data from the Banking Regulatory and Supervisory Agency and the Central Registry Agency, Turkey has 22,000 "lira millionaires". A million liras is equal to about €580,000.

"Whether you are talking about bank accounts or about the stock exchange... the lion's share belongs to a handful of millionaires," commented Sinan Aygun, president of the Ankara Chamber of Commerce (ATO), which published an analysis of the figures.

"There are 22,000 families in Turkey who can be regarded as 'super rich,'" agreed Akbank's assistant managing director and head of private banking at Fikret Onder, speaking to the newspaper Hurriyet. "Their fortunes add up to over $100m."

Captains of industry

Best-known among the rich are the Koc and Sabanci families, with their sprawling financial and industrial empires. Their wealth has been estimated at $8bn apiece. Second-tier dynasties include the Dogan, Sahenk and Ulker families. Other captains of industry include Sarik Tara, owner of construction and energy giant Enka, Izzet and Tuncay Ozilhan (brewer Efes Pilsen) and Mehmet Emin Karamehmet (mobile operator Turkcell). The richest man of all, according to last year's Forbes survey, is Husnu Ozyegin, with a net worth of $3.5bn. Ozyegin sold a 46% stake in Finansbank to National Bank of Greece for $2.8bn in 2006 and remains by common consent Turkey's most liquid individual.

The same surnames appear repeatedly in the tax-payer charts. Demir Sabanci declared personal earnings, including considerable capital gains, of €25.3m in 2006. In contrast to stakes in listed companies, the value and distribution of real estate - another classic source of income and repository of wealth - remains impossible to quantify. However, thanks to the recent survey, a more accurate map can now be built up of investible personal savings.

Pursuit of the wealthy

Turkish citizens hold €220.5bn in 76.2m deposit, investment fund and share trading accounts with banks and financial market intermediaries. Of these accounts, 22,154 have a balance of over TRY1m. Due to duplication, the true number of "millionaires" is probably significantly lower. Bank deposits account for 85% of the total savings and also 85% of the big savers: 18.7maccounts with an average balance of TRY6.9m.

An Ankara-based economist contacted by bne calculated that the number of bank-deposit lira millionaires rose by 285% between 2002 and 2007 - much faster than the overall growth of deposits, albeit partly as a consequence of inflation.

Akbank has so far led the search for the secret super-rich. With three branches in Istanbul and one each in Ankara, Izmir, Bursa and Adana, its private banking unit claims to account for $8bn of a $15bn market. Competitors include Garanti Bank, Isbank, Yapi Kredi and TEB-Paribas. According to Onder, private banking still only accounts for some 15% of the investible assets of wealthy Turks - and a mouth-watering $60-70bn is still held outside the country.

Tumbling stocks

However, the turmoil in the world's financial markets is now eating into those foreign savings.

Turkish company shares, whether held privately or via the Istanbul Stock Exchange, have fallen sharply. The main ISE index, which surged by 42% in 2007, had shed 25% of its value as of the close on February 6, making it one of the worst-performing markets at a torrid time for shareholders worldwide. About 72% of the free float is held by foreigners, but two-thirds of the remainder is in the hands of 2,123 rich Turks with over TRY1m to play with.

By contrast, domestic real estate prices have held up, and in line with the high, anti-inflationary policy rate, most major banks are still paying 14.5-16.5% for 12-month Turkish lira deposits. This compares with actual year-on-year consumer price inflation of 8.2% and anticipated end-2008 CPI of around 6%. Risk-averse savers opting for dollar and euro accounts - and that means about a third of all deposit-holders - must settle for interest of about 3%.

Revision time

Despite the problems on the markets, everybody in Turkey still seems to be getting better off. Since the crisis of 2001, GDP has grown by an average of about 7% annually. Meanwhile, most-recent (and much-disputed) Turkish Statistical Institute (Turkstat) data suggests that the most prosperous 20% of the population accounted for 44.4% of total earnings in 2005, down from 46.2% in 2004, and that the gini coefficient - a measure of inequality - fell from 0.40 to 0.38.

Due to the extraordinary strength of the lira, dollar-GDP has been rising in leaps and bounds. The adoption of a new national income methodology is expected to raise this figure by up to a further 25%. Now that Turkstat has slashed its population estimate by over 3m to 70.6m as of the end of 2007, per capita national income could soar, at least temporarily, to $8,900.

National income figures seek to encompass the notorious "unregistered economy," but exclude the billions of dollars that criminal networks and the armed Kurdish nationalist PKK organisation earn from all manner of smuggling, trafficking and extortion.

"The money of the rich tires the jaw of the poor," a Turkish proverb says. There is space here for only one last statistic. In 2007, as international gold prices soared, demand from all levels of society drove imports of the precious metal up 20% year on year in volume terms to 230.8 tonnes. Even Midas would have been impressed.

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Turkey's rich battle against the global tide

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