Feb. 14 (UPI) -- Following advice from its central bank, the Norwegian Ministry of Finance said it would consider whether oil and gas stocks should be in a pension fund.
Norway is one of the world leaders in oil and gas production, sending nearly everything it produces to the European market. The ministry has now formed an expert group to review the investments in energy stocks in the Government Pension Fund Global.
"The government seeks a broad basis for its decision," Finance Minister Siv Jensen said in a statement. "The issue must be thoroughly examined, as is the case for all important matters in the management of the GPFG."
Norges Bank, the country's central bank, said in a letter to the ministry in November it was recommending the removal of oil and gas stocks from the benchmark GPFG, 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 when the bank made its recommendation. After closing twice above $70 per barrel in January, the price of oil is following broader equities markets lower, erasing all of the yearly gains. The price for Brent crude oil was around $62.50 per barrel early Wednesday.
After issuing its recommendation, Norge Bank Deputy Gov. Egil Matsen said last year the recommendation was based on sound financial guidance, and wasn't a reflection of a particular view of future oil and natural gas prices.
The Norwegian pension fund has about 4 percent of its total investments in oil and gas, or about $38 billion.
The government holds a stake in Norwegian energy major Statoil. The company reported adjusted earnings for the fourth quarter at $4 billion, more than double that from the same period last year. Income of $5.2 billion followed a fourth quarter 2016 loss of $1.9 billion and cash flow improved year-on-year by about 30 percent to $20.7 billion.
In separate, but related, action, the central bank said it was outlining its expectations on anti-corruption.
"Our goal is to reduce the fund's risk," Yngve Slyngstad, CEO of Norges Bank Investment Management, said in a statement. "We want companies to move from words to numbers so that we can get a better understanding of financial opportunities and risks."
The Ministry of Finance will wrap up its review by the fall.