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State-owned funds are diversifying their investments
THE WORLD’s largest sovereign-wealth fund is now a little bit smaller. Last week the Government Pension Fund of Norway announced it had lost 6.1% of its value in 2018—its worst year since the financial crisis of 2008, and its first calendar-year loss since 2011. The decline cut its total asset base below the benchmark figure of $1trn, which it first reached in 2017. The poor performance was caused primarily by an untimely move into equities: the fund increased its allocation of shares to 70% of assets, just as global stockmarkets turned south. Although the 9.5% loss in its equity portfolio was in line with results registered by other stock investors, the fund’s concentration in stocks made it more susceptible to a downturn than its more conservative peers were.
Private asset managers can be forced to change their strategies after periods of disappointing performance, because return-chasing clients are prone to redeem their money unless the fund manager takes a different tack. In contrast, Norway’s portfolio managers are free to think long term. They are sticking to a bet on Britain, the country with the third-largest share of the fund’s assets, despite the myriad risks posed by Britain’s departure from the EU. They are debating whether to sell all of their oil and gas stocks in a bid to reduce the overall dependence of the Norwegian treasury on the price of crude.
Most other sovereign wealth funds are secretive about their asset allocation. The other big exception to this rule, Singapore’s national savings fund, known as GIC, slightly reduced its exposure to equities in the year to March 2018. Nonetheless the long-term trend has been for sovereign funds to shift out of risk-free assets such as government bonds and to take bigger bets. Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund is the raciest of all; it has piled into venture capital and even taken a large stake in Tesla. That is a position suited only to those with strong stomachs.