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Sovereign Wealth Funds

World’s biggest wealth fund sticks to oil divestment push

The battle over plans by the world's largest wealth fund to give up oil is far from over.

Norway's Government Pension Fund Global wants to divest from oil and gas stocks, a proposal that was recently rebuffed by a government-appointed committee. The setback leaves the man in charge of overseeing the fund at the central bank unfazed.

"Should we see a drop in the price of oil," Norges Bank Deputy Governor Egil Matsen said in an interview in the Arctic city of Bodo on Wednesday, "that's when the state would need revenue the most." Under this kind of scenario, continuing to invest in oil would not provide the kind of "higher returns" required of the fund, he said.

Norway's $1 trillion wealth fund roiled markets when it proposed to cut oil and gas stocks from its equity index in November 2017. Norway, which is western Europe's largest producer of oil and gas, faces the risk of "permanently low" oil prices, the fund said at the time. Despite government efforts to diversify, the economy is increasingly dependent on oil wealth spending to make up for budget shortfalls.

According to a government appointed committee led by economist Oystein Thogersen, the wealth fund's energy stocks contribute only "marginally" to the nation's oil price risk.

It's a message that fails to resonate with the central bank deputy governor.

"The question is what you mean by marginal. We have 350 to 400 billion kroner ($42 billion to $48 billion) invested in oil stocks," Mr. Matsen said. "You can discuss if it's marginal or not."

The deputy governor will have to wait to see if the government agrees when it gives its recommendation in the autumn.

"We think that our proposal still stands, even after the Thogersen committee put forward its view," Mr. Matsen said.