* May allow investments in private equity next year
* May also allow direct investments in unlisted equity
* Repeats won’t allow investment in unlisted infrastructure
* Opposition will take up infrastructure question (Adds quotes from deputy finance minister)
By Camilla Knudsen and Gwladys Fouche
OSLO, March 31 (Reuters) - Norway’s government may allow its sovereign wealth fund, the world’s largest, to invest in private equity and unlisted stocks from next year but said on Friday it remains opposed to letting it invest in unlisted infrastructure projects.
The fund, into which excess revenues from Norway’s oil and gas production are saved, is currently permitted to invest only in listed stocks, bonds and real estate. It can only invest in unlisted equities if an initial public offering is planned.
Executives running the fund have previously pointed out that many rapidly growing firms, including Uber and Airbnb, were off-limits.
“The (fund) cannot currently be invested in unlisted equities on a general basis. The Ministry of Finance intends to examine, prior to next year’s report on the management of the fund, whether such investments should be permitted,” the ministry said in a white paper.
The deputy finance minister later told Reuters the finance ministry was considering letting the fund invest in unlisted equities, either directly or via private equity funds.
“We see that the listed market is a limited part of the value creation by companies,” Tore Vamraak said. “We see a possibility to boost the return of the fund with a moderate risk.”
Since the fund started as a sovereign fund in 1998, it has returned an average of just 3.79 percent per year, short of its target of 4 percent.
The fund declined to comment.
The minority government repeated it was opposed to letting the fund invest in unlisted infrastructure such as roads, bridges and wind farms, due to the political risk these investments may carry and their high transaction costs.
It had opposed loosening the rules in last year’s review but lawmakers had said the question should be discussed again.
“This is disappointing. The government is not delivering on the order from parliament on infrastructure. This will guarantee that there will be a further deep debate on this topic, so this question is not closed because of this no by the government,” Torstein Tvedt Solberg, the spokesman for the opposition Labour Party, on the fund, told Reuters.
The government confirmed it would propose that the fund be allowed to increase its equities allocation to 70 percent from 60 percent, moving away from bonds, and that expected annual spending from the fund be cut to 3 percent from 4 percent.
Tom Sanzillo, director of finance at the U.S.-based Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, said the government should look again at unlisted infrastructure investments.
“They seem to be walking away from a market that is a trillion dollars and that is growing exponentially in the coming years. This is not prudent,” Sanzillo, who wrote a 2017 report on renewable energy infrastructure investment and the Norwegian fund, told Reuters.
“They appear to lack confidence in their own abilities and that is worrisome.” (Writing by Gwladys Fouche; Editing by Terje Solsvik and Alison Williams)