After three years of rapid reduction, multimillion-dollar remittances from Armenians working abroad, a major source of consumer spending in Armenia, rose by almost 15 percent in the first quarter of this year.
According to the Central Bank of Armenia (CBA), they totaled $313 million, up from $273 million in January-March 2016.
This seems to be one of the factors behind a 5 percent year-on-year rise in the nationwide volume of retail trade registered by the National Statistical Service (NSS) in the same period. The increased retail sales bode well for faster economic growth anticipated by the Armenian government in 2017.
The International Monetary Fund last month forecast a 2017 growth rate of around 3 percent for Armenia. It cited improving conditions in Russia as well as additional capital spending planned by the authorities in Yerevan.
The Armenian economy was virtually stagnant in 2016 amid a continuing recession in Russia, the South Caucasus country’s number trading partner. The Russian economy is on track to recover slightly this year.
Cash transfers from Armenian migrant workers in Russia accounted for just over half of the overall remittance inflows and soared by more than 20 percent in the first quarter, the CBA figures show. A more than 20 percent strengthening of the Russian ruble since the beginning of 2016 is one reason for this increase.
Accordingly, the ruble’s sharp depreciation in 2014 and 2015 resulting from the collapse of world oil prices explains why the total amount of Armenian remittances shrunk from $2.3 billion in 2013 to $1.53 billion in 2016. Armenia’s entire Gross Domestic Product is equivalent to less than $11 billion.
The stronger ruble also contributed to a 20 percent rise in Armenian exports recorded by the NSS in 2016. According to the Armenian government agency, exports to Russia continued to grow rapidly in January-March 2017.