Norway fund plans to more than double investments in Saudi Arabia

Norwegian sovereign wealth fund (SWF) CEO Yngve Slyngstad in this 2017 file photo. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 26 October 2018
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Norway fund plans to more than double investments in Saudi Arabia

  • Norway's sovereign wealth fund, the world's largest, plans to more than double its investments in Saudi Arabia
  • The fund currently has Saudi Arabian assets worth $825 million

OSLO: Norway's sovereign wealth fund, the world's largest, plans to more than double its investments in Saudi Arabia after it is included in the fund's reference index soon, Chief Executive Yngve Slyngstad said on Friday.
The fund currently has Saudi Arabian assets worth 6.9 billion crowns ($825 million), spread over 42 companies including banks, petrochemicals and healthcare firms.
The fund's reference index, the FTSE, will include Saudi Arabia in the coming year.
"We invest in companies, not countries. Our investments in companies based in Saudi Arabia will not be changed based on political developments," Slyngstad told Reuters.
"Generally speaking, we are not set up to assess political risk."
Earlier, the $970 billion fund said it would ask the 9,000 companies in which it invests to ensure their board members had sufficient expertise, time and independence.
The fund, which funnels Norway's revenues from oil and gas production, owns 1.4 percent of all globally listed shares. It has in recent years become a more active shareholder as it has grown in heft.
While some of the demands put forward on Friday are not new for the fund - such as opposing CEOs who sit as chairs of their companies - others are, such as requiring industry expertise from directors.
A majority of independent board members should have "fundamental industry insight" and at least two of the independent members should have worked in the company's industry, said the fund.
"It is really ... industry expertise which is an issue that has been under-communicated from investors," said Slyngstad. "The strong desire to have a profitable company by having a board who knows the business."
He declined to name specific sectors where he thought board industry expertise was lacking, but said: "There has been a focus on the financial sector, also from regulators, which we will reinforce from our point of view.
"But this is a broader issue than just the financial sector," he added. "We have seen quite differing practice in different sectors and different countries.
"This is a signal that ... we will try to look at these issues more quantitatively, to see where we can find the major issues with regards to countries and sectors."
The position papers will form the basis of the fund's position for how it votes on the boards of companies.
"It will be a starting point for how we will vote," Chief Corporate Governance Officer Carine Smith Ihenacho told reporters earlier.
Asked whether the fund would divest from reluctant companies, on these issues, she said: "It will be a basis for voting, dialogue and engagement."
Directors should also ensure they have enough time to fulfil their obligations to the boards on which they serve, said the fund.
In practice, that means board members of listed companies should not serve on more than five boards at one time and the chair of a leading company should generally not chair the board of another company, it said.
In the third quarter, the fund made a return of 2.1 percent, helped by rising North American stocks. It still returned 0.2 percentage points less than the a benchmark index set by the Norwegian Finance Ministry.
"The market development was affected by expectations of differing economic growth and uncertainty about the effects of increased trade barriers," Slyngstad said.


US eases restrictions on China’s Huawei to keep networks, phones operating

Updated 49 min 40 sec ago
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US eases restrictions on China’s Huawei to keep networks, phones operating

  • The company is still prohibited from buying American parts and components to manufacture new products without license approvals
  • Out of $70 billion Huawei spent buying components in 2018, some $11 billion went to US firms
WASHINGTON: The US government on Monday temporarily eased some trade restrictions imposed last week on China’s Huawei, a move that sought to minimize disruption for the telecom company’s customers around the world.
The US Commerce Department will allow Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. to purchase American-made goods in order to maintain existing networks and provide software updates to existing Huawei handsets.
The company is still prohibited from buying American parts and components to manufacture new products without license approvals that likely will be denied.
The US government said it imposed the restrictions because of Huawei’s involvement in activities contrary to national security or foreign policy interests.
The new authorization is intended to give telecommunications operators that rely on Huawei equipment time to make other arrangements, US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said in a statement.
“In short, this license will allow operations to continue for existing Huawei mobile phone users and rural broadband networks,” Ross added.
The license, which is in effect until Aug. 19, suggests changes to Huawei’s supply chain may have immediate, far-reaching and unintended consequences for its customers.
“The goal seems to be to prevent Internet, computer and cell phone systems from crashing,” said Washington lawyer Kevin Wolf, a former Commerce Department official. “This is not a capitulation. This is housekeeping.”
Huawei, the world’s largest telecommunications equipment maker, declined to comment.
The Commerce Department said it will evaluate whether to extend the exemptions beyond 90 days.
On Thursday, the US Commerce Department added Huawei and 68 entities to an export blacklist that makes it nearly impossible for the Chinese company to purchase goods made in the United States.
The government tied Huawei’s addition to the “entity list” to a pending case accusing the company of engaging in bank fraud to obtain embargoed US goods and services in Iran and move money out of the country via the international banking system. Huawei has pleaded not guilty.
Reuters reported Friday that the department was considering a temporary easing, citing a government spokeswoman.
The temporary license also allows disclosures of security vulnerabilities and for Huawei to engage in the development of standards for future 5G networks.
Reuters reported Sunday that Alphabet Inc’s Google suspended business with Huawei that requires the transfer of hardware, software and technical services except those publicly available via open source licensing, citing a source familiar with the matter.
Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the new authorization.
Out of $70 billion Huawei spent buying components in 2018, some $11 billion went to US firms including Qualcomm Inc. , Intel Corp. and Micron Technology Inc.
“I think this is a reality check,” said Washington trade lawyer Douglas Jacobson. “It shows how pervasive Huawei goods and technology are around the globe and if the US imposes restrictions, that has impacts.”
Jacobson said the effort to keep existing networks operating appeared aimed at telecom providers in Europe and other countries where Huawei equipment is pervasive.
The move also could assist mobile service providers in thinly populated areas of the United States, such as Wyoming and eastern Oregon, that purchased network equipment from Huawei in recent years.
John Neuffer, the president of the Semiconductor Industry Association, which represents US chipmakers and designers, said in a statement that the association wants the government would ease the restrictions further.
“We hope to work with the administration to broaden the scope of the license,” he said, so that it advances US security goals but does not undermine the industry’s ability to compete globally and remain technology leaders.
A report on Monday on the potential impact of stringent export controls on technologies found that US firms could lose up to $56.3 billion in export sales over five years.
The report, from the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, said the missed opportunities threatened as many as 74,000 jobs.
Wolf, the former Commerce official, said the Huawei reprieve was similar to action taken by the department in July to prevent systems from crashing after the US banned China’s ZTE Corp, a smaller Huawei rival, from buying American-made components in April.
The US trade ban on ZTE wreaked havoc at wireless carriers in Europe and South Asia, sources told Reuters at the time.
The ban on ZTE was lifted July 13 after the company struck an agreement with the Commerce Department that included a $1 billion fine plus $400 million in escrow and replacement of its board of directors and senior management. ZTE, which had ceased major operations as a result of the ban, then resumed business.
(Reporting by Karen Freifeld in New York and David Shepardson in Washington; Additional reporting by Diane Bartz in Washington and Angela Moon; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Cynthia Osterman)