Norway’s public pension reflects investing shift away from Europe

Plenty of investors have abandoned Europe over the past couple of years, but one of the more telling examples came on Friday from the far north when Norway’s public pension fund reported that it was basically ditching France in favor of the Washington property market.

The Norwegian Government Pension Fund Global, a sovereign wealth fund that provides an unusual level of public disclosure about its operations, said its European holdings have dipped below 50 percent of its total portfolio as it shifts money to places such as Turkey and Kenya that are expected to grow faster than old-line Europe.

As the Financial Times reported Friday, Norges Bank Investment Management has shed French and British government bonds. It also added its first U.S. property holdings, scarfing up major shares of buildings on Park Avenue and Fifth Avenue in New York, on Arch Street in Boston, and in the District. If there was ever a nice sign that U.S. real estate is rebounding, it is Norway’s new ownership of 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. NW and 1300 I St. NW.

Why does any of this matter?

A sovereign wealth fund is a pool of money owned by a national government and invested ostensibly for the long-term benefits of its citizens, so NBIM’s investments are a sort of snapshot of its views about where the world economy is heading. Sovereign wealth funds have perhaps the ultimate time horizon — if the government itself is solvent, it never really needs the money. And while there is political oversight and, presumably, accountability to the public, there is no regulator looking over its shoulder because the fund is a creature of the sovereign itself.


The property at 1101 Pennsylvania Ave NW, which the country of Norway owns a stake in. (TIAA-CREF/TIAA-CREF)

If anyone, in other words, is free from some of the constraints that often govern investment managers, it is chairman Oystein Olsen, chief executive Yngve Slyngstad and other officials at NBIM who use Norway’s oil profits “to safeguard and build financial wealth for future generations.” After what was reported as its second-best year in 2012, the fund was worth about $686 billion.

“To reduce long-term risk, there is now a better balance in the geographical allocation of investments than previously,” Olsen wrote, explaining Norway’s gradual detachment from a Europe where slow growth and volatility have scared off many, many others.

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