August 28, 2013 / 3:01 PM / in 4 years

UPDATE 1-Norway's opposition mulls SWF infrastructure investment abroad

(Adds background in fifth paragraph on number of opposition parties)

* Conservatives, Progress Party open to infrastructure investments

* Conservatives also open to investments in private equity

* Norway’s elections take place on Sept. 9

By Gwladys Fouche

OSLO, Aug 28 (Reuters) - The world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, Norway’s $740-billion oil fund, might be allowed to invest in foreign infrastructure projects in the future, two opposition parties seen as front runners to form the next government said.

Currently Norway’s oil fund can invest only in equities, bonds and property. Some think tanks and non-governmental organisations have argued that it should also be able to invest in infrastructure and private equity as they fit the fund’s profile as a long-term investor.

“(We) will be open to consider both private equity and infrastructure investments abroad,” Jan Tore Sanner, the Conservatives’ finance spokesman, said in emailed replies on Wednesday to questions from Reuters.

“When it comes to infrastructure, I don’t mind the fund doing that,” said Ketil Solvik-Olsen, the Progress Party’s finance spokesman, told Reuters by phone earlier this month.

Norway’s elections are on Sept. 9. Opinion polls show the likeliest outcome to be a coalition of the centre-right Conservatives and the populist Progress Party ousting Labour, which has been in power for eight years with its allies. But this is just one of a number of possible permutations involving also two other opposition parties.

Both Sanner and Solvik-Olsen said they had not come to a conclusion on whether the fund, set up in 1996, should be allowed to invest in infrastructure.

But both said they would be looking to reform the organisation of the oil fund, which invests the country’s revenues from oil and gas production for future generations.

“The current organisation has served the fund well through the start-up period, but it is now time to review whether the fund should stay within the current framework,” said Sanner who said one option among others could be to split the fund into two funds.

Solvik-Olsen, meanwhile, has mooted the idea that three, smaller funds could be broken off to invest in renewable energy, for foreign aid in poor countries and for letting Norwegian finance groups manage some of the cash.

“For a rough estimate, if the fund is worth 4,500 billion crowns ($765 billion), the main fund would be worth 4,000 billion crowns and the remaining 500 billion crowns would be divided between three smaller funds,” said Solvik-Olsen.

Changes, if they happen, would be slow. Revamping the oil fund is not the top priority of either of the parties, which are more focused on reforming the country’s hospitals, schools or roads, topics that are more relevant to their voters.

The fund was at first limited to investing in bonds and equities. Recently it extended into property. The fund is not allowed to invest domestically because the oil money would risk distorting and overheating the economy.

Editing by Stephen Nisbet

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