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Companies most likely to engage with Norwegian oil fund – survey

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Norway’s Government Pension Fund Global is the most active of sovereign wealth funds (SWF) when it comes to engaging with listed companies, a survey by BNY Mellon has found.

According to the bank’s annual investor relations survey, 65% of companies said they had been approached by or engaged with SWFs during 2015, up by 8 percentage points since 2013.

It found that 42% of companies had contact with Norges Bank Investment Management (NBIM), responsible for Norway’s NOK7.1trn (€733bn) sovereign fund, once again ranking as the most active of SWFs captured in the survey.

Singapore’s GIC approached 38% of respondents and the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority 30%.

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Fellow Singaporean sovereign investor Temasek Holdings came a distant fourth, with 18% of companies reporting correspondence with it, while 16% reported activity from the Kuwait Investment Authority.

Christopher Kearns, chief executive of BNY Mellon’s depositary receipts businesses, said that while companies continued to build on existing engagement with companies, there had been an “interesting” shift in behaviour.

“Responses indicate that, after a post-crisis period focused almost solely on investors amid intense competition for capital, companies now are devoting more time to other [investor relations] activities, such as board member involvement, enhancing senior managers’ visibility and improving relationships with analysts.”

NBIM, one of the world’s largest asset owners, has stepped up its focus on corporate governance in recent years.

It now publishes its voting intentions for select votes ahead of meetings, rather than simply disclosing how it voted after the fact.

In 2014 alone, NBIM held 2,641 meetings with companies, voting at 10,519 general meetings.

However, there have been calls for NBIM to be even more assertive in its engagement efforts.

Speaking to IPE after the Norwegian Ministry of Finance indicated the sovereign fund could soon increase its equity allocation, Rob Lake, who in 2013 helped review the fund’s responsible investment (RI) strategy and led the RI team at Dutch pension manager APG, said the sovereign fund’s caution currently held it back.

“Given their scale, a slightly more assertive position might be appropriate,” Lake said.

“But it’s always a delicate balance for them because big public statements by an investor of that kind can be very destabilising – and that isn’t desirable either.”

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