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Infrastructure risks can be mitigated, Norway's oil fund decision makers told

Norway’s finance ministry, which decides how the country’s NOK7.5trn (€831bn) sovereign wealth fund invests its money, has been told by consultancy McKinsey that regulatory and political risks of infrastructure investment can be reduced in various ways.

In April this year, the finance ministry ruled out allowing the Government Pension Fund Global (GPFG) to invest in unlisted infrastructure, saying that such investments were exposed to high regulatory or political risk. 

In its report, McKinsey said investors recognised that exposure to political, regulatory and reputational risks was higher for investments in infrastructure than it was for other asset classes, adding that there were significant differences across segments. 

“To manage risk exposure, investors carefully select which infrastructure segments to invest in – and similarly which segments not to invest in – depending on their desired risk profile, capabilities and ability to mitigate relevant risks,” the firm said.

Mitigating risk effectively requires expertise, and investors take different approaches depending on their investment strategies, the report said.

“Indirect investors tend to rely on external parties, whereas direct investors tend to mitigate risks through a combination of close collaboration with partners and deep internal expertise,” McKinsey said.

The report had been requested by the parliamentary finance committee to help it look further into the risks and challenges of investing in unlisted infrastructure, before reconsidering the matter in the next annual report on the fund.

McKinsey noted in its report that it had been asked to give a fact-base for the government, rather than investment recommendations.

Jensen also said in April, when the 2015 report on the GPFG was published, that conflicts with the authorities of other countries arising in relation to infrastructure investments would be hard to handle and entail reputational risk for the fund.

She said that, as a transparent, politically endorsed state fund, the GPFG would be less suited to bear this type of risk than other investors. 

While the McKinsey report said investors should be mindful about the reputational risks of association with “dubious actions” by second or third parties linked to their infrastructure investments – for example, where operating partners may have a close link to a previous government with corruption allegations – the firm also said that risk exposure needed to be understood on an asset-by-asset basis.

“As infrastructure assets are highly diverse, the exposure to political, regulatory and reputational risks varies from asset to asset,” it said, adding that there were three asset characteristics that explained some of these differences – sub-sector, geography and life cycle stage.

The report also outlined three examples of events that damaged the reputation of investors in unlisted infrastructure but commented that this type of example was relatively unusual, and that operating companies seemed to have received most of the negative publicity. 

“Events with reputational damage mostly occur when investors fail to study risk and take appropriate mitigation measures,” McKinsey said.

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