Norway’s $1 trillion wealth fund - the largest in the world - reported earnings for Q2 on Tuesday, a quarter in which it made $20 billion but mostly thanks to the oil and gas stocks that it looking to divest as part of its clean mandate. However, its overall return was hurt due to its massive exposure to global stocks which suffered in the quarter due to trade war fears: in the second quarter, the fund posted a 1.8% return following a loss in the first quarter, resulting in a paltry 0.24% return in the first half, its worst performance in 8 years.
The fund, which owns 1.4% of global stocks, saw its total stock holdings rise 2.7%, while bonds were unchanged and real estate provided a 1.9% return. The fund, also known as Norges Bank Investment Management, is a major shareholder in the U.S. tech giants. Its largest stock holdings at the end of the quarter were Apple Inc., Amazon.com Inc. and Microsoft Corp. Its largest bond holdings were in U.S. Treasuries, followed by Japanese and German government debt.
As shown below, at June 30, the fund held 66.8% in stocks, 30.6% in bonds and 2.6% in real estate. The return missed the benchmark index by 0.2% point.
And while the world’s biggest wealth fund benefited in the first six months from a rally in U.S. markets, fueled by tax cuts, it warned about the impact on the world economy of rising protectionism after U.S. President Donald Trump imposed tariffs on key trading partners.
"The prospect of increased trade barriers is something that is high on everybody’s agenda,” Trond Grande, the fund’s deputy chief executive officer, said on Tuesday. “It’s fair to say that increased trade barriers, or even trade wars, will not be beneficial for the fund as a long-term global investor."
Sure enough, the fund lost 5.7% in emerging market stocks and 4% on Chinese equities. Ironically, as Bloomberg notes, the biggest sector driver for its returns were oil and gas stocks, which it has proposed divesting. Financial stocks were the weakest performers, led by Banco Santander SA.
“In the second half of the period, the prospect of increased trade barriers and a weaker growth outlook in Europe, China and emerging markets had an adverse effect,” the fund said. “Political uncertainty in Italy impacted negatively on European financial markets."
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Yet while one can draw many lessons from the performance of Norwegian Wealth fund, what the investing community appears to be most interested in was its view on Tesla and whether it would - hypothetically - be part of a syndicate to take the company private. It doesn't look like it.
Asked about his view on Tesla's proposed going private deal, Trond Grande, the fund's deputy CEO said that "we don’t have a view on that" and added: "We want to be invested in companies that make money."
And while the world's largest wealth fund owned 0.48% of Tesla at the end of 2017, it did not appear to be in a hurry to add any more.
Asked whether the fund, which has a much longer horizon than most investors, views that particular holding as more challenging than others or whether it could be an opportunity, given its ability to sit through large fluctuations, Grande said it was neither.
“We’ve said several times what we view as good corporate governance, in terms of role distribution between CEO and chairman, the possibility to vote at general assemblies, that type of thing,” Grande said. "Some companies are in an early development phase and won’t have matured as much on all these questions."
While he didn't name names, it was clear who the "immature" company was.
Finally, with Saudi Arabia out of the MBO deal, one can also scratch out the Norwegians: the fund could not play a part in a taking-private deal, Bloomberg notes, since it’s barred from investing in private equity.
There was a silver lining: Grande said that although the fund’s main practice is to sell its stake when a company leaves an exchange, or soon after, rules regulating the fund set by the Norwegian Finance Ministry and parliament do allow it to stay on in a listed company that goes private.
“The priority is to try to preserve the value for the fund. That is the priority,” Grande told Reuters on the sidelines of an earnings presentation. “If that means that the fund will be invested in a company that has been delisted for a period of time, that could happen."
"But as a main rule, we will exit the investments as and when, or soon after, it has been taken off an exchange,” he said.