Nov. 16 (UPI) -- The Norwegian central bank said Thursday it wanted to remove oil stocks from the government pension fund to cut the vulnerability to weak market prices.
Norges Bank, the country's central bank, said in a letter to the Norwegian Ministry of Finance it was recommending the removal of oil and gas stocks from the benchmark Government Pension Fund Global, arguing that it would make Norwegian government wealth less exposed to a "permanent drop in oil and gas prices."
The price for Brent crude oil, the global benchmark, was around $61.40 per barrel early Thursday, close to a two-year high. Four years ago, the price of oil at this time was around $108 per barrel.
High production levels from emerging producers like the United States and weak economic momentum in recent years have pushed prices considerably lower. Norge Bank Deputy Gov. Egil Matsen cautioned the recommendation was based on sound financial guidance, and does not reflect a particular view of future oil and natural gas prices.
The government owns shares in oil and gas major Statoil. The company reported adjusted earnings after tax for the third quarter at $2.3 billion, more than double the amount from the same period last year.
President and CEO Eldar Sætre said that, even as the price of oil during the last quarter stayed near $50 per barrel, his company was still generating positive cash flow. Nevertheless, the central bank said the pensions fund and the stake in Statoil left it totally exposed to oil price risk.
"In periods of substantial and prolonged oil price changes, the difference in returns between oil and gas stocks and the broad equity market have been considerable," the bank said. "The return on oil and gas stocks has been significantly lower than in the broad equity market in periods of falling oil prices."
Statistics Norway, the government's record-keeping agency, reported taxes on the extraction of petroleum for September were down 7.1 percent from last year.
The central bank in October said the economy was struggling to pick up pace, with inflation expected to stay below 2.5 percent over the next few years. Though the labor market is gaining strength, the value of the currency, the krone, is weaker than expected and the bank said it was keeping its key policy rate at 0.5 percent.
Oil and gas equities account for around 6 percent of the government's benchmark index, or about $36.6 billion.