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The coronavirus pandemic and subsequent impact on the oil market are having a considerable effect on migrant workers and are likely to supress remittance flows in the APAC region, Fitch Ratings says in a special report.

Remittance to Asia Pacific to Fall in the Coming Quarters
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Fitch expects flows to weaken in the coming quarters, even though recent amounts have been surprisingly robust in some countries due to temporary factors. Declining remittances in economies that are dependent on them may affect sovereign ratings through pressures on external finances and economic growth.
Demand for migrant labour has provided an important and stable source of foreign-currency remittance flows for a number of APAC sovereigns, including Bangladesh (6.0% of GDP), Pakistan (7.9%), Sri Lanka (8.0%) and the Philippines (8.4%). India is the largest recipient of remittances globally but they account for a small share of GDP at 2.9%. Remittance flows have helped keep current account deficits contained by offsetting large trade deficits. Indeed, without remittances the Philippines, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh would all have large current account deficits of between 7%-10% of GDP.
Remittances in APAC also provide economic benefits to recipient countries. First, they support domestic consumption by providing an additional income source to households. According to the Asian Development Bank, about 14% of households in Bangladesh receive remittance income, 8% in the Philippines, 4% in Pakistan and 2% in India. Second, job opportunities for migrant workers relieve slack in domestic job markets.
Remittance flows in APAC were surprisingly mixed in the second quarter of 2020. Monthly data show a considerable and broad decline in remittances during April and May, as Fitch expected, but a recovery in June and July. The rebound in flows was particularly robust in Pakistan and Bangladesh, where flows broke records in both June and July. Sri Lanka and the Philippines also saw an improvement in remittance flows in June, but much more modest.
Anecdotal evidence points to temporary factors for the increase in recorded remittances in the recent period. These include migrant workers transferring their savings in preparation to return home, the impact of lockdown restrictions on transferring funds and a shift to formal remittance channels, which are picked up in the official data.
Fitch forecasts a 12% decline across the region in the second half of the year as the temporary support factors fade.
The deterioration in remittance inflows is likely to widen current account deficits, contributing to higher external financing needs. For countries with fragile external finances, such as Pakistan and Sri Lanka, the shock to remittances could exacerbate existing challenges. Lower oil prices and subdued import demand, however, are likely to soften the aggregate impact on external balances.
Remittances typically provide a countercyclical buffer for economic activity and vulnerable households. In domestic economic shocks, family members working abroad can increase remittances to help mitigate the impact of sluggish domestic activity. The pandemic, however, represents a much more synchronised global economic shock than previous downturns. This limits the potential support of the remittance channel.
Lower remittance flows could affect public finances through two channels: lower revenue collection from weaker consumption and higher social spending to support remittance-dependent households as well as returning migrant workers. Many countries in the region already have limited fiscal space to address the current coronavirus shock and the decline in remittances could exacerbate current challenges.

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