Norway’s sovereign wealth fund hit $1 trillion for the first time on Tuesday, driven higher by climbing stock markets and a weaker U.S. dollar.
The milestone valuation was reached for the first time on Sept. 19 at 2:01 a.m. in Oslo, Norges Bank Investment Management said in a statement on Tuesday.
“I don’t think anyone expected the fund to ever reach $1 trillion when the first transfer of oil revenue was made in May 1996,” Yngve Slyngstad, chief executive officer of the fund, said in the statement. “Reaching $1 trillion is a milestone, and the growth in the fund’s market value has been stunning.”
But the extreme wealth, about equal to the gross domestic product of Mexico, isn’t unalloyed good news.
The fund’s sheer size has made it a challenge to find markets big enough to invest in. Meanwhile, Norway’s politicians are finding it hard to resist the temptation to raid the world’s biggest state piggy bank, with the petro-dollar addiction threatening to overheat the $400 billion economy.
It has few rivals in terms of size. Japan’s Government Pension Investment Fund was valued at 144.9 trillion yen ($1.3 trillion at the current exchange rate) at the end of March. China, of course, has about $3 trillion in currency reserves. There are also big cash-piles at money management firms such as BlackRock Inc.’s $5.7 trillion and Vanguard Group’s $4.4 trillion.
Slyngstad recently suggested it’s now largely fruitless for it to enter new asset classes such as infrastructure because that would be costly and only deliver a blip on overall returns. The investor is also retrenching its global bond portfolio, cutting 23 currencies down to just three — the dollar, the euro and the pound. The fund says it doesn’t make sense to have more diversification in a world in which prices and rates are converging.
Its huge size has also driven the fund to respond to problems with trading by devising elaborate strategies to hide its selling and buying from anyone seeking to front-run its activities.
But being big has its advantages, especially for a lean organization like Norges Bank Investment Management. The fund only employs about 550 people in offices across the entire globe (Oslo, New York, London, Shanghai and Singapore). Management costs were equal to just 0.02 percent of assets in the most recent quarter, down from 0.07 percent five years ago.