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Whatever happened to Nepal's diaspora bonds?

Dilip Ratha's picture
Kathmandu, Nepal. Photo: © Simone D. McCourtie / World Bank

You might recall that the finance minister of Nepal announced in the annual budget in July 2009 that the government would issue a diaspora bond to raise funds for infrastructure development. Indeed Nepal Rastra Bank followed through in June 2010 by floating a “Foreign Employment Bond”. Although the initial goal was to issue Rs. 7 billion (about $100 million), Rs. 1 billion was floated in the first round. Nepali workers in Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Malaysia could buy the bond from one of seven licensed money transfer operators in denominations of Rs. 5,000 (about $65).

Data are hard to come by, but the funds raised have been minuscule, nowhere near target. Apparently, the name of the bond had nothing to do with its unsuccessful launch! 

Perhaps the primary reason for the failure may have to do with a lack of publicity and a short period of sale. Little marketing was done before the issuance and it seemed rushed, with the government conducting it for a short period from June 30 to July 12. This might have been related to the Nepali fiscal year, which ended on July 16. Given that bonds were issued for the first time and only for two weeks, there wasn't enough time to generate wide interest.

A second reason was limited targeting. Migrants in India (the largest destination of Nepali migrants) were not allowed to buy these bonds. Also excluded were Nepali migrants in the OECD countries that generally have higher incomes than migrants in the Gulf countries and Malaysia.

A third reason was financial, notwithstanding patriotism and home bias. The interest rate offered on the bond was not attractive to potential buyers. This local currency diaspora bond had an interest rate of 9.75% and a maturity of 5 years. Commercial banks in Nepal offer up to 13% on 5-year fixed deposits.

Finally, money transfer agencies that sold the bonds received a 0.25% commission on the sale but had to forgo money transfer fees. It is possible that they did not have the right incentives to promote the bonds over remittance transfers.

The Nepali finance minister reiterated the government’s commitment in November 2010 to continue issuing the bond. Nepal Rastra Bank plans on floating Rs. 5 billion in Foreign Employment Bonds in early 2011. Nepal appears to have learnt valuable lessons and from its foray into diaspora bonds. If marketed in a wider list of countries, with better publicity, higher interest rates and a longer window of sale, the bond issuance should do much better the next time around.

How much perhaps could Nepal hope to raise from a diaspora bond? Perhaps the size of remittance flows to Nepal can give us an order of magnitude. Remittance flows to Nepal have increased rapidly in recent years, reaching $3.5 billion (close to a quarter of the GDP) in 2010. And that's not including remittances from India (which in rupee terms is larger than the bilateral trade deficit between Nepal and India, enough to sustain the linked exchange rate of the Nepali rupee to the Indian rupee). A retail bond can raise a lot of money from the large number of migrants that Nepal has!
 

Comments

Submitted by Dan Boyce on
Dilip, nice article. We always see these highly publicized announcements by governments but rarely does anyone follow-up to find out what really happened. By looking at how these initiatives sometimes fizzle away, we can learn how to handle things better in the future

Excepted inflation in Nepal might also had been one of the reason why investors were reluctant to buy government bonds ..Over the past few years inflation in Nepal is flirting with two digits...

Submitted by M. A. Khan on
Diaspora Bond (DB) is a simple concept, but I think it is usually misunderstood, which might cause failure. The objective of the Diaspora should not converting regular flows of Workers’ Remittances or free money in to a debt liability. Rather DB must aim at exploit the patriotism of those who have left the country for good and send back nothing or just a negligible sum of their earnings. Do countries like Nepal have the kind of Diaspora that Israel or India have? If they Do, we may think about a successful launch of DB by Nepal otherwise targeting regular Workers’ Remittances will only hurt the current consumptions of the households and hence their living standards.

Submitted by binita on
Although article has analyzed the major causes of failures of FEB. It also may be the cause of increasing pessimism towards financial institutions because every day finance and banks are being bankrupted and common depositors are loosing their savings. On the other hand foreign workers who are working in those countries who can buy bonds are using their remittance nearly 30 percent for repaying loans and less than 1 percent for saving so how can they subscribe the bond.

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