Hundreds of millions of dollars are stuck in the country due to Western sanctions, the fund’s management says
Norway’s $1.3 trillion sovereign wealth fund, one of the world’s largest investors, is still unable to divest its holdings in Russia as the custodian bank is under Western sanctions, the Norwegian Finance Ministry said on Friday.
The Oslo-based Government Pension Fund is the world’s biggest owner of publicly traded companies with a portfolio of about 9,000 stocks. It has around 0.2% of its assets invested in Russia.
“The market for trading in Russian financial instruments is still subject to comprehensive sanctions and has not been normalized as of March 2023,” the ministry said in a statement.
The Nordic country’s authorities decided to sell Russian stocks right after the start of the military operation in Ukraine. The fund held shares in 47 Russian companies and government bonds valued at 25 billion Norwegian crowns ($2.4 billion) at the end of 2021.
However, at that time the fund’s management was resisting pressure to shed Russian assets, with CEO Nicolai Tangen saying it would be “a wrapped gift to the oligarchs who buy our shares.”
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Since then, Western nations have imposed sweeping sanctions against Russia which now prevent the Norwegian pension fund from divesting its assets.
“The concrete and practical problem is that the custodian bank that we use is under sanctions, and can’t assist us with settlement of transactions, and neither with voting on shares” in Russian companies, deputy CEO, Trond Grande said in January. The situation is “deadlocked” he noted, adding that “there is no way we can either sell or buy or vote on these shares.”
Details of the fund’s portfolio at the end of 2022 released in January revealed a loss of about $2.8 billion from Russian holdings, compared to their value at the end of 2021.
Meanwhile, Russia has repeatedly warned that sanctions imposed on the country would backfire. Earlier this month, Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said Western nations would “suffer from their own restrictions” while being “disappointed” by Russia’s resilience.
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March 31, 2023 at 10:46PM