How Norway is helping stocks climb around the world

Flag of Norway on the island Senja, near Tromsø in Northern Norway.
Hanneke Luijting | CNBC
Flag of Norway on the island Senja, near Tromsø in Northern Norway.

Stocks in Europe gapped up at the open and stayed up. U.S. stocks did the same.

One likely factor in the rally is a report commissioned by the Norwegian government that has recommended the country's sovereign wealth fund should increase its weighting in equities from 60 to 70 percent.

Norway's sovereign wealth fund is the biggest in the world, with nearly $900 billion in assets:

Largest Sovereign Wealth Funds

Norway $885 billion
China $813 billion
UAE-Abu Dhabi $792 billion
SaudiArabia $598 billion
Kuwait $592 billion

Source: Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute

The current allocation for Norway is 60 percent equities, 35 percent bonds and 5 percent real estate. Sixty percent of $885 billion is $531 billion. From that perspective, the 2015 value of all global equities is roughly $67 trillion, according to the World Federation of Exchanges.

Do some simple math: This means Norway already owns about 0.8 percent of all the equity wealth in the world. Increasing the equity exposure by an additional 10 percent would mean Norway would have to buy an additional $88 billion worth of equities, which would increase its exposure to roughly 0.9 percent of the equity wealth in the world.

"An additional 10 percent allocation would be a big boost to equities," Michael Maduell, head of the Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute, told me. "The negative yielding debt is putting pressure on all the wealth funds. They are also looking to increase real estate, but the appetite is hard to satisfy."

As Maduell notes, the commission in making this recommendation for a simple reason: Norway is not getting the returns it needs to meet its funding obligations. It is facing the same problem that pension funds and plain old households are facing the world over: it can't get any returns out of bonds funds and is increasing its risk profile by going more to stocks.

How bad is it? Norway's goal is to get a real return (net of costs) of 4 percent from the fund. Sounds easy, no? Not with an allocation of 35 percent to bonds. The current returns are now "considerably less" than 4 percent, and the commission is predicting that the current return over the next 30 years will be only 2.3 percent a year.

The decision to increase the equity allocation will be made by the Norwegian Finance Ministry. Interestingly,the chairman of the commission dissented, saying that the equity exposure should be reduced to 50 percent.

His argument is increasing the equity allocation will increase volatility, and that would make contributions from the fund to the general budget less predictable.

The rest of the commission members acknowledged the risk of higher volatility, but said "this risk is acceptable, provided that there is political will and ability to adapt economic policy to the accompanying increase in risk, in both the short and long run."

In other words, the commission is warning that more volatility may mean the returns on the fund will be more up-and-down, and that it may not always meet the budgetary needs of the country.

Welcome to the world of the average stock investor.

Here's a breakdown of the equity exposure of Norway's sovereign fund by country, for year-end 2015, rounded off to the nearest decimal:

United States 35 percent
United Kingdom 10 percent
Japan 9 percent
Germany 7 percent
France 5 percent
Switzerland 4 percent
Canada 3 percent

Source: Sovereign Wealth FundInstitute

  • Bob Pisani

    A CNBC reporter since 1990, Bob Pisani covers Wall Street from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

Wall Street