Pakistan has experienced a notable decline in remittances during the first month of the current fiscal year, as data released by the central bank reveals a year-on-year drop of 19.3 per cent, amounting to $2 billion. This concerning trend was further accentuated by a month-on-month reduction of 7.3 per cent.

In the month of July, remittance inflows from Pakistanis residing abroad amounted to $2.2 billion. The distribution of these remittances showed that Saudi Arabia held the top spot with a contribution of $486.7 million, followed by the United Arab Emirates with $315.1 million. The United Kingdom and the United States of America followed closely with $305.7 million and $238.1 million, respectively.

Economic analysts anticipated this decline in remittances for the month of July, given the post-Eid ul Adha period. The reduction was expected, as Pakistani expatriates tend to increase their cash transfers back home during festive seasons. Interestingly, it seems that some of these remittance inflows have been diverted to the grey market due to more favourable exchange rates for dollars.

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Samiullah Tariq, the head of research at Pak-Kuwait Investment Company, shed light on this shift: “In my view, as this was the month after Eid ul Adha, flows were relatively subdued. Some Pakistanis are opting for unofficial channels to transfer money.” The continuous devaluation of the Pakistani currency is also impacting investment sentiment among overseas Pakistanis, discouraging them from contributing more significantly to the economy.

The recent release of these remittance statistics coincides with the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) approval of a $3 billion bailout package for Pakistan. The nation’s economy had been teetering on the edge of default due to mounting debt obligations. Governor Jameel Ahmad of the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) reassured that the SBP remains committed to upholding its obligations, including maintaining a controlled difference between the interbank and open market exchange rates, as specified in the agreement with the IMF.

Fahad Rauf, the head of research at Ismail Iqbal Securities, voiced his concern over the decline in remittances: “The extent to which remittances have declined is indeed worrying. Unofficial channels offering higher rates have played a role in this scenario.” He also highlighted the SBP’s efforts to attract more remittances through proposed changes in incentive schemes, including a 50 per cent increase in the reimbursement rate for Saudi Riyal conversions.

The SBP’s latest monetary policy statement forecasts the current account deficit for fiscal year 2024 to range between 0.5 per cent and 1.5 per cent of the gross domestic product. This projection takes into account both evolving domestic and global economic conditions. The SBP remains optimistic about the prospects of multilateral and bilateral inflows following the IMF’s stand-by arrangement, which is expected to bolster external buffers and address short-term external financing requirements.

As the nation navigates through these challenges, the market-determined exchange rate will continue to play a pivotal role as the first line of defence against external shocks, further supporting the buildup of reserves. With a cautious eye on global commodity prices and a moderate domestic economic recovery, Pakistan aims to manage its imports and strengthen its economic stability.