Norway Sovereign Wealth Fund Urged to Add $87 Billion in Stocks

  • Commission recommends boosting shares to 70% of holdings
  • Commission sees returns mired at just 2.3% over 30 years

Norway’s $874 billion wealth fund needs to add more stocks as record low interest rates and a weak global economy will otherwise lower returns to just above 2 percent a year over the next three decades, a government-appointed commission recommended.

The Finance Ministry should raise the fund’s stock mandate to 70 percent from 60 percent, the committee, comprised of academics, investors and two former finance ministers, urged on Tuesday. A decision on increasing its stock investments will be made by the ministry, which hasn’t always agreed with the conclusions of similar reviews on the fund’s holdings.

“A higher share of equities increases the expected return, and the contribution to the fiscal budget, but also entails more volatility in the value of the Fund and a higher risk of a decline in its long-run value,” the group said. “The majority is of the view that the this risk is acceptable, provided that there is political will and ability to adapt economic policy to the accompanying increase in risk, in both the short and long run.”

Norway is looking for ways to boost returns that have missed a real return goal of 4 percent as interest rates have plunged globally in the aftermath of the financial crisis. The government is this year withdrawing money from the fund for the first time to make up for lost oil income after crude prices collapsed over the past two years.

“The 60 percent equity share has over time been very good for us because it has given us considerable income from the fund,” Finance Minister Siv Jensen said in an interview after a press conference. “But we have also experienced that there can be swings from one year to another because the stock market moves over time.”

‘Considerably Less’

After getting its first capital infusion 20 years ago, the fund has steadily added risk, expanding into stocks in 1998, emerging markets in 2000 and real estate in 2011 to safeguard the wealth of western Europe’s largest oil exporter.

It’s currently mandated to hold 60 percent in stocks, 35 percent in bonds and 5 percent in real estate. After inflation and management costs, it has returned 3.43 percent over the past 10 years.

The committee said that the expected returns from the fund are now “considerably less” than 4 percent. With the current equity share, the commission predicts an annual real return of just 2.3 percent over the next 30 years.

Still, that didn’t stop the chairman of the commission, Knut Anton Mork, from disagreeing with the majority’s conclusion. The former chief economist at Svenska Handelsbanken in Oslo instead recommended cutting the stock holdings to 50 percent.

“The minority recognizes that the reduction in the oil and gas remaining in the ground over the last decade is an argument in favor of a higher equity share, but considers this less important than the predictability of budget contributions from the fund,” he said.

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