“I received a letter just before I left office from a man. I don’t know why he chose to write it, but I’m glad he did. He wrote that you can go to live in France, but you can’t become a Frenchman. You can go to live in Germany or Italy, but you can’t become a German, an Italian. He went through Turkey, Greece, Japan and other countries. But he said anyone, from any corner of the world, can come to live in the United States and become an American.” - Ronald Reagan
Sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like had I been born in an underdeveloped poor country. I mean let’s face it, many of us, myself included have had the good fortune of being born in the right place, at the right time, and in many instances to the right parents. What we do with our luck is a different matter altogether, but just starting from a position of strength can make all the difference in the world.
My wife was born in San Francisco. She along with her siblings are first generation Americans. Her parents immigrated from Nicaragua and were given an opportunity to lead a better life and provide more for their future children. I am happy they did, as my life is far better off with her in it - I believe she would say the same thing about me.
For many years now, my wife has regularly sent money back to uncles, aunts, cousins and close family friends. It is a huge responsibility, at times a burden, but nevertheless necessary. She loves and cares for her family and truly hates to see them in need, so she contributes what she can. Life is rough in Nicaragua, as the country has been mismanaged as far back as I can remember. I have visited with her maybe seven times over the years and in my opinion, the major crime of the Nicaragüense is being born in the wrong place, at the wrong time.
I recently received the below article from Visual Capitalist and the subject matter resonated loudly. I found the discussion, charts and statics thought provoking and thought my readers would feel the same.
Which Countries Receive the Most Remittances?
By Iman Ghosh
Mapped: The Ins and Outs of Remittance Flow
The global immigrant population is growing at a robust pace, and their aggregate force
is one to be reckoned with. In 2019, migrants collectively sent $550.5 billion in money
back to their home countries—money transfer flows that are also known as remittances.
Remittances serve as an economic lifeline around the world, particularly for low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Today’s visualization relies on the latest data from the World Bank to create a snapshot of these global remittance flows.
Where do most of these remittances come from, and which countries are the biggest recipients?
Remittances: An Origin Story
Remittances are a type of capital flow, with significant impacts on the places they wind up. These money transfers have surpassed official aid being sent to LMICs for decades, and in this day and age, are rivaling even Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) flows.
Remittance flows mainly help improve basic living standards such as housing, healthcare, and education, with leftover funds going towards other parts of the economy. They can also be a means for increasing the social mobility of family and friends back home.
Altogether, 50% of remittances are sent in either U.S. dollars, or the closely-linked currencies of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, such as the Saudi riyal. It’s not surprising then, that the U.S. is the biggest origin country of remittances, contributing $68.5 billion in 2018—more than double that of the next-highest country, Saudi Arabia, at $33.6 billion.
Remittance Flows As A Safety Net
The impact of remittances on LMICs can vary depending on what you measure. In absolute terms, the top 10 LMIC recipients received $350 billion, or nearly 64% of total remittances in 2019.
India tops the chart as the largest remittances beneficiary, followed by China and Mexico. Interestingly, these three countries are also the main destinations of remittance flows from the U.S., but in the reverse order. Mexico and the U.S. have one of the most interconnected remittance corridors in the world.
However, the chart above makes it clear that simply counting the dollars is only one part of the picture. Despite these multi-billion dollar numbers, remittances are equal to only a fraction of these economies.
By looking at remittances as a percentage of nominal GDP, it’s clear that they can have an outsize impact on nations, even if the overall value of flows is much lower in comparison.
It’s clear that the cash influxes provided by remittances are crucial to many smaller countries. Take the Polynesian archipelago of Tonga, for example: even though it only saw $190 million in remittances from abroad, that amount accounts for nearly 40% of the country’s nominal GDP.
Will The Remittance Tides Turn?
The World Bank projects remittance flows to increase to nearly $600 billion by 2021. But are such projections of future remittance flows reliable? The researchers offer two reasons why remittances may ebb and flow.
On one hand, anti-immigration sentiment across major economies could complicate this growth, as evidenced by Brexit. The good news? That doesn’t stop immigration itself from taking place. Instead, where these migrants and their money end up, are constantly in flux.
This means that as immigration steadily grows, so will remittance flows. What’s more, fintech innovations have the potential to bolster this progress, by making money transfers cheaper and easier to access.
“Tackling high transaction costs is crucial not only for economic and social development, but also for improving financial inclusion.” - UN ESCAP, October 2019
This market does not want to go down despite the “smart money” insisting otherwise. Prior to managing money for individuals, families and non-profits, I too spent a large portion of my career as the “smart money” having been employed by the investment banks as both a proprietary trader and market maker on the government bond and interest rate derivatives trading desks. Managing a highly leveraged book is a complex task, and most of the time, I along with my colleagues focused our sights on what could go wrong as opposed to the flip side of that coin. Today, I am still laser focused on the downside, however I have also learned to ease up a bit and become more open to animal spirits running their course.
So I question, if we are going to have a large sustained near term pullback (-20% or more) then what would be the catalyst for steady liquidations – and please don’t tell me valuations are stretched, as this means little on its own. During the dot.com bust of 2000 and the credit bust of 2007-08 the imbalances were large and obvious to many of us Nervous Nellies. I do not see a similar set-up this time around and frankly, the central banks have made it clear they are in the business of supplying liquidity for the purpose of keeping the party going. Short of subscribing to the U.S. Dollar blow-up theory (one of the more obvious imbalances in the market today is related to central bank actions), the alternative and prudent thing to do would be to believe exactly what they say.
As markets climb higher, the inherent risk in the market increases, as our cushion (in the form of low valuations) fades further into the distance. This of course is a concern of mine, yet I do believe the bull market has a few years in front of it before our current conditions reverse. For the time being, investors are adding new money to their portfolios, and partly based on these “real money” inflows, I believe a continuation of the trend is the most likely course.
Regarding sector weightings, I still like large capitalization technology, housing and real estate related stocks, both emerging market equities and debt (local currency), as well as long term U.S. Treasuries. I made the mistake of allocating an overweight position to the energy sector a couple months back. That was a bust and has since been reversed.
Justin Kobe, CFA
Founder, Portfolio Manager & Adviser
Pacificus Capital Management
Advisory services through Cambridge Investment Research Advisors, Inc., a Registered Investment Adviser. Securities offered through Registered Representatives of Cambridge Investment Research, Inc., a broker-dealer, member FINRA/SIPC. Cambridge and Pacificus Capital Management are not affiliated.Material discussed is meant for general illustration and/or informational purposes only, and it is not to be construed as investment, tax, or legal advice. Although the information has been gathered from sources believed to be reliable, please note that individual situations can vary. Therefore, the information should be relied upon when coordinated with individual professional advice. These are the opinions of Justin Kobe and not necessarily those of Cambridge Investment Research, are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed or acted upon as individualized investment advice. Investing in the bond market is subject to risks, including market, interest rate, issuer credit, inflation risk, and liquidity risk. The value of most bonds and bond strategies is impacted by changes in interest rates. Bonds and bond strategies with longer durations tend to be more sensitive and volatile than those with shorter durations; bond prices generally fall as interest rates rise, and the current low interest rate environment increases this risk. Current reductions in bond counter-party capacity may contribute to decreased market liquidity and increased price volatility. Bond investments may be worth more or less than the original cost when redeemed. Diversification and asset allocation strategies do not assure profit or protect against loss.