Norway moves to sell some oil and gas shares from wealth fund

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Image Shutterstock

Norway's Finance Ministry announced a plan Friday for its trillion-dollar sovereign wealth fund to divest from oil producers - including some of the tops names in the Canadian industry - in an effort to reduce its exposure to fossil fuels. In Norway, the biggest hydrocarbon producer in western Europe, oil and gas represent nearly half of exports and 20 per cent of the state's revenues.

The move, which will need ratification from Parliament, appears to mark at least a temporary end of a debate that began in late 2017 when the fund's manager, Yngve Slyngstad, recommended exiting oil stocks to hedge against "the vulnerability of government wealth to a permanent drop in oil and gas prices".

The country's wealth fund - built with the revenues of its oil and gas production - will gradually sell some US$8-billion in shares of exploration and production companies, but keep its holdings in integrated firms that have both production and refining which total more than US$20-billion. Articles appear on euronews.com for a limited time.

The shift in strategy of the Norwegian Government Pension Fund Global (GPFG) will affect 1.2% of its equity holdings, worth about £5.7bn.

"Like the advice from Norges Bank, this assessment does not reflect any specific view on the oil price, future profitability or sustainability of the petroleum sector", it said in a statement. "This assessment is thus independent of the government's current petroleum policy, which remains unchanged", the government said.

Rather, smaller companies like Marathon Oil and Chesapeake Energy will see their stock sold.

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For instance, Cheniere, which does not produce oil or gas, but operates gas liquefaction facilities, was featured on the list.

For environmental organisations and climate change activists, Norway's new position is a clear victory as the world struggles to meet Paris Agreement goals.

"To exclude all oil companies would limit the fund's opportunities", Finance Minister Siv Jensen said.

The proposition to remove energy exploration and production from the fund's portfolio, which now make up around six per cent of the wealth fund's investments, comes on the heels of a 2017 recommendation from Norges Bank. The Norwegian government indicated in its release that it expects most of the future growth in renewable energy to come from companies that do not now have renewable energy as their main business.

Shares in oil and gas companies fell slightly this morning but this move was expected and Norway is hardly likely to sell all the shares immediately or all at once, both of which would probably force down share prices sharply when it wants to get the best possible return on its investment.

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