HSBC sees significant drop in OFW remittances this year

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 05 2009 12:11 AM | Updated as of Feb 05 2009 08:11 AM

Citing the severity of the global economic plunge, HSBC said remittances from overseas Filipinos could post an unprecedented 20 percent drop this year.

HSBC's forecast was supported by estimates made by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which said Tuesday that rising unemployment among migrants in labor-exporting countries would become the main concern in 2009.

IMF managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn said developed economies alone were expected to record 50 million unemployed people in 2009 and there could be no reason why emerging Asia would avoid unemployment as the consequence of slow growth.

Unfortunately, Strauss-Kahn said, remittances account for an increasing large part of revenues in emerging economies.

"Of course, the slowdown in the economies where those people from different nationalities go to work may diminish the remittances," he said.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong-based HSBC senior economist Frederic Neumann said the Philippine economy has fared better than most countries in the region.

Neumann noted that the Philippines still managed to register a 4.5-percent growth in the fourth quarter of 2008, making it one of the best performers in Asia.

According to Neumann, headline remittance numbers also held up but he said these would not be sustained this year despite their history of resilience in the past economic crises.

"The country is not quite out of the woods yet," Neumann said, noting that remittances could decline by as much as 25 percent in the third quarter of 2009.

Assumptions of an actual contraction in remittances have been repeatedly rejected by monetary officials although central bank Governor Amando Tetangco earlier admitted that this year's remittance growth would be even lower than the revised forecast of 6 to 9 percent growth.

But Neumann said the severity and synchronicity of the current plunge in global growth were bound to eventually take their toll on the ability of OFWs to sustain flows.

Neumann also said that remittances coming from the Middle East has risen in recent years, which provided an especially acute risk given the region's exposure to slumping oil prices.

Neumann said the deceleration of growth in the oil-rich regions would ultimately affect Filipinos working there although it would depend on how long oil prices would remain depressed.

He noted, however, that "a stabilizing factor may be that a larger share of OFWs in the Middle East than elsewhere is employed in services, a type of employment that should hold up better than others."