Norway’s Global Government Pension Fund, the biggest sovereign wealth fund in the world by assets under management, could be about to start taking a lot more risks if it follows the advice of a government-commissioned report into the way it allocates its assets.
The new report, released on Tuesday, argues that the £716 billion ($880 billion) fund should increase its holdings of shares, and move around £71 billion ($87 billion) of its assets into riskier equity holdings.
This would mean that roughly 70% of the fund’s assets are held in stocks, up from just less than 60% right now.
As a result, the fund’s government bond portfolio would shrink substantially.
“A higher share of equities increases the expected return, and the contribution to the fiscal budget, but also entails more volatility in the value of the Fund and a higher risk of a decline in its long-run value,” the report noted.
“The majority is of the view that this risk is acceptable, provided that there is political will and ability to adapt economic policy to the accompanying increase in risk, in both the short and long run.”
Previously, the fund held around 40% in equities before increasing its allocation to 60% in 2007, just before the global financial crisis hit.
Norway’s sovereign wealth fund is looking for new ways to make money given the rock-bottom yields most developed-market government debt has right now, and following the crash in oil that has seen prices for the world’s most important commodity crash from more than $100 per barrel to just more than $50 now, having briefly dropped below $30 early in the year.
The crash has impacted Norway’s economy so much that in 2016 — for the first time in nearly two decades — the fund is expected to see net outflows, with the Bloomberg reporting February that the government will withdraw as much as 80 billion kroner (£7.99 billion; $9.8 billion) this year to support the economy.
Rock-bottom global bond yields are making things even more tricky, as interest rates close to zero all around the world continue to bite. The eurozone, Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, and Japan all already have negative interest rates, and rates in most other developed markets are pretty close to zero. In the UK, the rate is 0.25%, while in the USA it is 0.5%.
Low interest rates mean low yields on bonds, meaning that the fixed-income market is not one where there is much money to be made right now, and that has helped drive the recommendation to move more money into stocks.
“With a higher share of equities the expected return will increase as will the income to the government budget. Yes, it comes with higher risk but we think we are well equipped to handle this risk,” Hilde Bjornland, an economist who was part of the team that compiled the report, told the Financial Times.
Should the fund take up the report’s recommendations, it could have a substantial impact on European, and even global markets. The fund’s stock holdings are already so large that if averaged out, it would hold 2.5% of every single listed company in Europe. In the UK for example, the fund has invested almost £50 billion in stocks, spread across 457 different companies.