Norway Readies Asset Sales as Statoil Ownership Under Review

Norway is readying a proposal targeting asset sales that the government has signaled will include its biggest energy company, Statoil ASA, as the state loosens its grip on private enterprise.

The government will submit a white paper outlining which companies it will reduce its stakes in and how it will conduct the sales next “autumn,” Industry Ministry Monica Maeland said in a Dec. 4 interview at her office in Oslo.

“The Norwegian government as an owner is powerful but private companies should have more power,” she said. “There are private companies with more knowledge in what these companies are doing. Some companies are in competition with other private companies -- why should the government compete with private companies?”

Maeland, who took office in October, said she’s meeting with companies including Telenor ASA, the largest Nordic phone company, fish-farmer Cermaq ASA as well Statkraft AS to assess the situation.

Prime Minister Erna Solberg, which ousted a Labor-led coalition in September elections, said in August that a government led by her would seek to cut its Statoil stake to 51 percent from 67 percent.

“I’m not going to disagree with my prime minister,” Maeland said.

Wealth Fund

Statoil, based in Stavanger on Norway’s west coast, operates about 80 percent of Norway’s oil and gas output. Norway is western Europe’s largest oil exporter, and has besides large state holdings also built an $810 billion wealth fund from its energy riches.

Solberg also pledged to reduce the ownership in other companies, including Telenor and aluminum producer Norsk Hydro ASA. She said a one-third ownership in these companies would be appropriate. Statoil would be an exception, she said. Norway owns 34.3 percent of Norsk Hydro.

Norway owns 59.2 percent of Cermaq and 54 percent of Telenor as well as 34 percent of DNB ASA, the country’s largest bank, 14 percent of SAS AB and 36 percent of fertilizer maker Yara ASA, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. At the end of 2012, the government’s Oslo-listed holdings were worth 489 billion kroner.

“We’re talking about spreading power, we’re talking about knowledge,” Maeland said. “In some companies we’re good owners and in some we don’t have the right knowledge, so we should let other people” with more experience and research gain control, she said, declining to name specific companies.

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