Winners and Losers as Norway Discloses Plan to Sell Some Oil Stocks

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Norway’s Ministry of Finance announced Friday morning that it has proposed that the government’s sovereign wealth fund, officially known as the Government Pension Fund Global, sell its equity holdings in oil and gas exploration and production (E&P) companies. According to finance minister Siv Jensen, the goal is to “reduce the vulnerability of our common wealth to a permanent oil price decline.”

The country’s wealth fund currently holds about $1 trillion, of which the proposed divestiture will result in the sale of about $7.5 billion in shares of firms like Anadarko Petroleum, Chesapeake Energy and Occidental Petroleum. The ministry has identified 134 E&P firms targeted for divestiture. Integrated oil companies like Exxon Mobil, Chevron, and Royal Dutch Shell are not among the companies targeted for divestiture.

The divestiture proposal follows a report by Norges Bank in 2017 recommending the fund to drop all its investments in fossil fuel companies. This morning’s announcement reflects a compromise and is unlikely to be received with open arms by the country’s climate change activists, who cheered the 2017 report.

In its statement, the finance ministry noted that the country’s wealth fund is already heavily invested in E&P activities and the plan to sell E&P stocks is all about portfolio diversification. The government owns 67% of Equinor (previously known as Statoil), which currently produces about 2 million barrels of oil a day, mostly from the Norwegian continental shelf in the North Sea.

While noting that a permanent reduction in the price of oil will have “long-term implications” for Norway’s public finances, the ministry said that the effect of the sale of its E&P stocks “appears to be limited.” That certainly seems fair to say: $7.5 billion represents just 0.075% of the wealth fund’s holdings.

In a report to the Storting, Norway’s legislature, the ministry notes that the wealth fund holds positions in more than 300 energy companies, including companies “purely focused on renewable energy infrastructure.” Continuing to hold shares in integrated oil and gas companies that add value by refining and marketing petroleum products may exclude the fund from participating in the projected growth of the renewable energy operations of these large integrated firms. The ministry expects these firms, which do not have renewable energy as their main business, to account for 90% of the growth in renewable energy infrastructure through 2030. Withdrawing from all energy companies that are not pure-play renewable energy firms “may limit the Fund’s scope to participate in this growth.”

It’s not a stretch to say that the integrated oil companies of the world scored a victory. They’ve apparently managed to persuade the Norwegian government that they are committed to renewable energy and will be major players in the drive to save the planet.

Because E&P companies are focused on fossil fuel extraction and represent less than 0.1% of Norway’s wealth fund, they are expendable, while the integrated oil companies, recent converts to stewardship of the planet’s air and water resources, are transforming into clean, green machines. That’s what this announcement sounds like. Climate activists won’t be pleased, but whether there is any pushback from the Norwegian legislature remains to be seen.

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