If you don’t mind the brutally harsh temperatures or the sun going down midday during the winter or the sun barely setting in the summer, then you’re going to love Norway. It has all the socialist freebies of most European countries and a large chunk of their natural beauty, with fjords and mountains dotting the country. It’s just like “The Sound of Music,” without the Nazis.
But Norway has something else that few other countries in Europe or elsewhere in the world have: a piggy bank with nearly $750 billion of savings, which happens to be the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund.
The Government Pension Fund Global, or GPFG, is where surplus monies generated by Norway’s petroleum income are deposited. It is the largest sovereign wealth fund in the world, according to the Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute. Despite GPFG’s name, however, it derives its contributions not from individual taxes on the 5 million people living in the country but from revenue produced by the nation’s oil-and gas assets, many of them in the North Sea. GPFG has more than doubled in value since December 2007, according to data collected by Norway and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Together, GPFG and its sibling Government Pension Fund Norway, or GPFN, have been described as holding about 1 percent of global equities and as the largest stock owner in Europe, with about 1.78 percent of its markets.
Despite its huge increase in value, Norway’s sovereign wealth fund is growing a lot slower than its peers. Since 1998, its annual average return after management costs has missed its growth target of 4 percent, earning just 3.17 percent, according to the Wall Street Journal. In contrast, Singapore’s Temasek Holdings Ltd. reported a compound annual growth rate of return of 13 percent over the decade ending March 31.
Norway’s sovereign wealth fund has been the tool of both the Conservative Party and the Progress Party as they prepare for the Sept. 9 parliamentary elections. It has been widely agreed in Parliament that the fund must earn more for the country, but, in striving to earn more, some are worried that risk-taking will upset the stability of the fund. Currently, the fund invests primarily in oil-and-gas instruments, which is odd considering it is a hedge fund that is designed to protect Norway from overexposure to the oil-and-gas markets. Now, many are calling for the fund to diversify its strategy and look at more long-term assets, such as real estate.
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Many are calling for an investment in infrastructure where long-term profits can be made, but one of the more popular ideas is to break up GPFG to create a framework similar to Sweden’s five separate pension funds. (Ironically, Sweden is now looking to consolidate its funds into one as the Swedes believe competition has not helped its funds gain more profits.)
The Progress Party wants to take 10 percent of the sovereign wealth fund and use it to invest in green energy, international aid and a fund that is used by professionals in Norway’s provincial cities.
Other Sovereign Wealth Funds
Almost all countries have public debt, regardless of how wealthy they may be. Despite its huge savings, even Norway has public debt amounting to about 30.3 percent of its gross domestic product, which is very low by European standards. In contrast, Greece has public debt totaling about 161.3 percent of GDP.
If you’re American, you may want to look away now. The U.S. public debt is now $16,738,401,335,152.16. That is $16.7 trillion, about $52,800 for every American. Since President Barack Obama took office, the debt as a percentage of GDP has risen to 101.6 percent in January 2013 from 77.4 percent in January 2009, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. It is above 100 percent for the first time since the end of World War II.
Unfortunately for the U.S., it does not have a sovereign wealth fund. However, the states of Alabama, New Mexico, Texas and Wyoming each has at least one similar fund.
Meanwhile, China currently has four funds with a combined value of $1.3 trillion, and the United Arab Emirates has seven funds totaling more than $800 billion.
Here is a list of the top 15 sovereign wealth funds, according to the Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute:
1. Norway (Government Pension Fund Global) $737.2 billion
2. Saudi Arabia (SAMA Foreign Holdings) $675.9 billion
3. UAE-Abu Dhabi (Abu Dhabi Investment Authority) $627.0 billion
4. China (China Investment Corp.) $575.2 billion
5. China (SAFE Investment Co.) $567.9 billion
6. Kuwait (Kuwait Investment Authority) $386.0 billion
7. China-Hong Kong (Hong Kong Monetary Authority Investment Portfolio) $326.7 billion
8. Singapore (Government of Singapore Investment Corp.) $247.5 billion
9. Russia (National Welfare Fund) $175.5 billion
10. Singapore (Tamasek Holdings) $173.3 billion
11. China (National Social Security Fund) $160.6 billion
12. Qatar (Qatar Investment Authority) $115.0 billion
13. Australia (Future Fund) $88.7 billion
14. Algeria (Revenue Regulation Fund) $77.2 billion
15. UAE-Dubai (Investment Corp. of Dubai) $70.0 billion