OSLO (Reuters) - Norway’s $830 billion sovereign wealth fund, the world’s biggest, does not see the prospect of Britain leaving the European Union as a significant risk to its investments, its chief executive told Reuters on Wednesday.
The comments came as the fund reported an overall fourth-quarter gain but said it may need to support government spending to the tune of 80 billion crowns ($9.34 billion) this year.
Britain is the fund’s second-largest country holding after the United States, representing 10.2 percent of its total value at end-2015. It made its first-ever property deal by buying a stake in London’s Regent Street in 2011.
“We will continue to be a significant investor in the UK at about the same level as we are today and probably even increasing our investments there going forward no matter what happens,” Yngve Slyngstad said in an interview.
Britain is voting in June on whether to stay in the EU. Norway is not a member.
“All changes entail some risk but we would not categorize it as a significant risk,” Slyngstad said.
In 2015 several sovereign wealth funds sold $46.4 billion of assets after the oil price crash triggered fund redemptions and selling of foreign currency reserves by producers.
Norway was not one of them. “We have not participated in the selling and we don’t foresee that we will,” Slyngstad told a news conference held earlier on Wednesday to present the fund’s annual report.
Incoming revenues, worth 191 billion crowns last year, would be more than enough to fund the withdrawal that is planned from the Ministry of Finance as of this year, he said.
“So we are in a privileged position that the fund is very large and the cash we generate is quite significant while the budget financing needs are limited,” he said.
As a long-term investor, the fund has often said it likes to take countercyclical positions, by buying when markets fall. Asked whether the current market turmoil was such an opportunity, he said: “Yes, of course.”
“We would like to be in a position where we can be countercyclical and we will see what will happen with the market. However, we still need quite significant price movements in the market before we actually go into a rebalancing mode.”
The rainy-day fund, built up over two decades from Norway’s vast oil revenues, holds about $160,000 for each of Norway’s 5.2 million people.
In January, the government made its first net withdrawal from the fund to support public spending and an economy hit by falling oil industry investments.
On Wednesday, Slyngstad said the 6.8 billion crown withdrawal in the month could mean an expansion to 80 billion crowns over the year. That would not affect the fund’s long-term goals, he said.
In the fourth quarter, a rebound in stock markets helped the fund make a positive return in the fourth quarter following two consecutive periods of losses.
It had earned a return of 3.56 percent in October-December, slightly outperforming its benchmark of 3.51 percent. For 2015, the return of the fund was 2.7 percent, 0.5 percentage points above its annual benchmark.
($1 = 8.5662 Norwegian crowns)
Editing by Terje Solsvik/Jeremy Gaunt
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