Foreign exchange reserves heading towards choppy waters | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, March 30, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, March 30, 2020

Foreign exchange reserves heading towards choppy waters

The country's foreign exchange regime is cruising towards headwinds due to the dwindling exports and remittances thanks to the global economic slowdown brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

"Banks have already started to feel the pinch," said Syed Mahbubur Rahman, managing director of Mutual Trust Bank.

Many lenders had faced foreign exchange shortage just before the central bank asked banks to shutter their major operations for ten days.

The problem will come back with vengeance once normal service resumes, he said.

The balance of payment has not faced a crisis in recent period due to the upward trend of remittance, which increased 20.05 per cent year-on-year to $12.49 billion in the first eight months of fiscal 2019-20.

The 2 per cent cash subsidy for remitters from this fiscal year has been the main driver behind the spike.

But the subsidy is not working at the moment as the global economy is now facing a recession, which has forced many Bangladeshi expatriates to return home, Rahman said.

The inflow of remittance has almost stopped and a severe crisis will be created if the lockdown in the migrant workers' host countries continues for long, said M Kamal Hossain, managing director of Southeast Bank.

"We are now unable to give prediction as to how long the crisis will prolong," said Faruq Mainuddin Ahmed, managing director of Trust Bank.

If it prolongs, the state of affairs of the external sector will get worse, Rahman said, while urging both the central bank and the government to take prompt measures to tackle the impending crisis.

The country's foreign exchange reserve stood at $32.56 billion on March 24, up 2.83 per cent from a year earlier.

The reserve is sufficient to settle import payments for at least five months, which is better than the global standard of three months.

But a good number of buyers have already cancelled their work orders, which is set to have a negative impact on the foreign exchange reserves, said Emranul Huq, managing director of Dhaka Bank.

The balance of payment is not facing any problem right now as import has already declined significantly in recent months, said Ahsan H Mansur, executive director of the Policy Research Institute.

Between the months of July last year and February this year, trade deficit, which occurs when imports outweigh exports, stood at $9.4 billion, down 2.32 per cent year-on-year.

In the first seven months of the fiscal year, imports decreased 4.43 per cent year-on-year to $32 billion.

"Imports will go down more in the days ahead as demand will reduce because of the ongoing fallout," said Mansur, also a former official of the International Monetary Fund.

The foreign exchange crisis will be felt when the economy gets back to normal post coronavirus.

He suggested the central bank to depreciate the local currency against the dollar in the interest of the exporters as many peer countries have already done so.

"Remittance is the main tool to avoid the foreign exchange crisis. Along with Europe and North America, the Middle East is also facing recession because of a sharp decline in petroleum price," he said.

The country's majority of migrant worker are based in the Gulf nations, he added.

Saleuddin Ahmed, a former governor of the central bank, echoed the same.

The interbank exchange rate stood at Tk 84.95 per dollar on March 25, up from Tk 84.25 a year earlier, according to the central bank.

"Both the remitters and exporters will get support if the taka depreciated," Ahmed said.

Meanwhile, the central bank bought greenbacks worth $305 million from banks in the second week of this month after a gap of about three years.

But the central bank was forced to sell $40 million to banks on March 25 due to the downward trend of remittances, said a BB official.

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