Norwegian wealth fund plans to divest of oil and gas

Norway's $1 trillion wealth fund looks to dump oil & gas stocks

Bob Strong Reuters

At the end of 2016, the fund's equity investments were split between investments in the financial sector (23.3 per cent), industrial companies (14.1 per cent), consumer goods (13.7 per cent), consumer services (10.3 per cent), healthcare (10.2 per cent), technology (9,5 per cent), oil and gas (6.4 per cent), basic materials (5.6 per cent), telecoms (3.2 per cent) and utilities (3.1 per cent).

The oil and gas sector now spans a broad range of energy-related activities, including companies classified as integrated oil and gas, oil service and renewable energy.

McKibben compared the bank's recommendation to "the moment when the Rockefellers divested the world's oldest oil fortune" in 2014, when the heirs to Standard Oil said that if founder John D. Rockefeller were alive in the 21st century, "he would be moving out of fossil fuels and investing in clean, renewable energy".

"The investments in the GPFG and the stake in Statoil result in a total exposure to oil and gas equities for the government that is twice as large as would be the case in a broad global equity index", Norges Bank said.

"Our perspective here is to spread the risks for the state's wealth", Egil Matsen, the deputy central bank governor overseeing the fund, said in an interview in Oslo.

Norges Bank manages Norway's $1 trillion (£758bn) sovereign wealth fund on behalf of the government.

"There is a substantial difference.in return between the oil and gas sector and the broad stock market in periods when the oil price changes substantially".

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The aim of the proposal is to make Norway's wealth less vulnerable to a permanent drop in oil prices, especially at a time when the fund is increasing the proportion of its portfolio it invests in equities to 70 percent from 60 percent previously.

"Oil price exposure of the government's wealth position can be reduced by not having the fund invested in oil and gas stocks", said Matsen. "We can do that better by not adding oil-price risk". However, it made clear that its recommendation involved divesting from existing oil and gas shares as well as ruling out future investments.

"That would mean buying more stocks in the oil and gas sector", said Matsen.

Norges Bank said: "The analyses show that oil and gas stocks are significantly more exposed than other sectors to movements in oil prices".

The Norwegian government said it would consider the proposal, but a decision should not be expected until next year and a "thorough assessment" was required.

If it backs the central bank's proposal, Parliament could vote on it in June 2019 at the earliest.

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