By Salar Ghahramani
Recently, Norway's Ministry of Finance, led by Minister Trygve Slagsvold Vedum, asked Norges Bank Investment Management (NBIM) to explore various aspects of private equity (PE) investments and lift the existing ban on investing in non-traded PE firms. The request is aimed to potentially expand the investment mandate of the country’s Government Pension Fund Global (GPFG), which currently holds $1.35 trillion in assets and is one of the world’s largest sovereign wealth funds (SWFs).
This development could be driven by a desire to keep up with other sovereign wealth funds, such as Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund (PIF), which have diversified their portfolios by investing in various private equity and venture capital firms, including those that are not publicly-traded and essentially form the vast majority of the buyout funds that exist in the PE/VC universe. (The full list of PIF's buyout investments, through its venture capital arm Sanabil Investments, can be found here and is very much worth a read, as it highlights the diverse nature of these endeavors.)
As a structural/governance background, it is essential to provide the following context: most PE firms are closed-end funds and are characterized by partnerships between general partners (GPs)—which are the PE firms themselves that manage the funds—and limited partners (LPs), various investors, including institutional ones such as pension funds and sovereign wealth funds. The limited partnership agreement outlines the amount of risk each party takes, as well as the fund's duration. LPs are liable for up to the full amount of their investment, while GPs bear full liability in the market.
Investing in private equity can provide several benefits for SWFs, but it also comes with certain implications, particularly concerning transparency. First, the potential benefits:
These challenges can obscure the true investment risk within LPs' portfolios—including those of SWFs—since standardized reporting on returns, fees, and underlying asset data is not readily available. The lack of transparency may also unintentionally create a misalignment of interests between LPs and GPs, despite the current trust-based framework that has been the bedrock of the PE investment universe.
As a result, while Norway's sovereign wealth fund explores the possibility of investing in private equity, it must consider both the potential benefits and the implications regarding transparency, governance, and reputational risks. Expanding GPFG's investment mandate could certainly help the fund remain competitive in the global financial landscape, diversify its investments, and enhance its returns, so long as the associated risks are adequately managed and addressed.
Salar Ghahramani is the founder of Global Policy Advisors.