* Sells holdings in 17 companies for ethical reasons
* Include top world cigarette makers
(Adds detail, quotes)
OSLO, Jan 19 (Reuters) - Norway has dropped 17 tobacco companies, including top cigarette makers like Altria, Lorillard, Philip Morris and British American Tobacco (BAT), from its $450 billion wealth fund for ethical reasons.
The fund, which invests the Nordic nation’s oil and gas wealth in foreign stocks and bonds to save for future generations, holds more than 1 percent of all global stocks.
The central bank-managed fund follows ethical guidelines set by the government and, in the past, has excluded companies that produce nuclear arms or cluster munitions, damage the environment or abuse human or workers’ rights.
It said it had extended its ethical drive to recreational tobacco use.
“A rule has been adopted that in principle will exclude all production of tobacco, regardless of the percentage of business represented by tobacco production,” the finance ministry said on Tuesday, adding more companies not classified in tobacco-maker indexes .TOB but which make smoking products may be excluded.
“The divestment of shares in these companies has now been completed,” the finance ministry said.
The central bank declined to specify the value of the tobacco company stakes held by the fund before selling out.
According to Reuters calculations, the stakes held in the expelled companies amounted to 14.6 billion Norwegian crowns ($2.56 billion) at the end of 2008. Data for 2009 has not yet been published.
The fund’s biggest shareholdings included a 1.3 percent stake in British American Tobacco Plc, worth 4.8 billion Norwegian crowns ($842.5 million) at the end of 2008, 0.5 percent in Philip Morris International (3.3 billion crowns) and 1.3 percent in Imperial Tobacco (2.4 billion crowns).
Known as the “oil fund”, Norway’s Government Pension Fund — Global is the world’s second biggest sovereign wealth fund after that of the United Arab Emirates.
The excluded companies are: Alliance One International AOI.N, Altria Group (MO.N), BAT (BATS.L) and British American Tobacco BHD, Gudang Garam tbk PT (GGRM.JK), Imperial Tobacco Group IMT.L, ITC (ITC.BO), Japan Tobacco (2914.T), KT&G Corp (033780.KS), Lorillard LO.N, Philip Morris International (PM.N) and Philip Morris Cr AS, Reynolds American RAI.N, Souza Cruz CRUZ3.SA, Swedish Match (SWMA.ST), Universal Corp (UVV.N) and Vector Group (VGR.N).
Reporting by Oslo newsrooom; Editing by David Cowell