Norway might drop oil stocks from its wealth fund

oil rig
Oil is going out of favour. Photo credit: Getty

The Norwegian government plans to decide next year on whether to back a proposal from the country's wealth fund to cut oil and gas companies from its benchmark index.

If accepted by the finance ministry and adopted by parliament, the trillion-dollar fund would over time divest billions of dollars from oil and gas stocks, which now represent 6 percent - or around $49 million - of the fund's benchmark equity index.

The aim is to reduce the exposure of the fund - and therefore the Norwegian government - to oil price fluctuations.

"Our advice is to simply remove the oil and gas sector, as it is defined in the FTSE reference index, from the fund's reference index," deputy central bank governor Egil Matsen said.

"That would mean all companies that the FTSE has classified with the sector, should be removed from our reference index."

The fund is the world's largest sovereign wealth fund. It invests Norway's revenues from oil and gas production for future generations in stocks, bonds and real estate abroad.

It is among the largest investors in a wide range of oil companies, holding stakes at the end of 2016 of 2.3 percent in Royal Dutch Shell, 1.7 percent of BP, 0.9 percent of Chevron and 0.8 percent of Exxon Mobil.

At the end of 2016, the fund's equity investments were split between investments in the financial sector (23.3 percent), industrial companies (14.1), consumer goods (13.7), consumer services (10.3), healthcare (10.2), technology (9.5), oil and gas (6.4), basic materials (5.6), telecoms (3.2) and utilities (3.1).

The timing of the coming divestments is as yet unclear. The ministry's first opportunity to propose the move in parliament could come in the northern spring, with a vote in June.

"The issues raised by Norges Bank are complex and multifaceted. The advice from the Bank requires a thorough assessment, in line with established practice for key decisions on the management of the Fund," Finance Minister Siv Jensen said.

"Furthermore, the government is responsible for the Norwegian economy as a whole and must take a broad and comprehensive approach to this issue."

Reuters