October 1, 2019 / 8:46 PM / 2 months ago

Norway sovereign wealth fund to divest oil explorers, keep refiners

OSLO (Reuters) - Norway’s $1.1 trillion sovereign fund will divest companies solely dedicated to oil and gas exploration and production in a bid to shield itself from a long-term fall in oil prices, the finance ministry said late on Tuesday.

The move will partly shift the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund away from oil and gas, as called for by the central bank, which had originally sought to remove all petroleum producers to protect the country if oil prices fell.

The fund will continue to maintain stakes in refiners and other downstream firms.

An earlier decision to maintain investments in so-called integrated oil firms, including majors Royal Dutch Shell Plc (RDSa.L) and ExxonMobil Corp (XOM.N), also remains in force and was not part of the latest review.

Norway is Europe’s second-largest producer of oil and gas after Russia and its wealth fund invests in foreign stocks, bonds and real estate.

The country’s parliament earlier this year endorsed a plan to cut some oil firms from the fund’s portfolio, but it was left to the government to define the scope of exclusion.

The decision to divest affects the fund’s holdings in some 95 companies, with the value of its stakes amounting to around 54 billion Norwegian crowns ($5.92 billion) as of mid-September of this year, the ministry said in a statement.

That was far less than the $37 billion worth of stocks which the central bank had proposed cutting when it made its original proposal in 2017 to divest all petroleum firms, including global oil majors.

The government opposed a full ban, arguing that major oil firms have the scale and technological ability to shift toward renewable energy.

The government did not name the firms that will be excluded after the latest decision. A Reuters review in June found that stakes in U.S. oil firms ConocoPhillips (COP.N) and Hess (HES.N) would likely be sold however.

Sweden’s Lundin Petroleum (LUPE.ST) was also at risk of divestment, the company has said.

Norway’s majority ownership of Oslo-listed oil firm Equinor (EQNR.OL), which is held independently from the fund, was not subject to review.

Norway has said the decision is to reduce the exposure of the country’s wealth to the risk of a permanent drop in oil prices, but environmental campaigners have seized on it as an example of an investor turning away from the oil industry.

The divestments would take place gradually and over time, the ministry said.

Editing by Leslie Adler, Matthew Lewis and Deepa Babington

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