Current crisis positive for Europe: Norway oil fund

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Oil fund manager Yngve Slyngstad
16:16 CET+01:00
The current debt crisis should in the end be good for Europe since it will force the continent to adopt long-awaited reforms, the head of Norway's state pension fund said on Monday.

As a sign of its confidence in a European recovery, Norway's so-called oil fund -- one of the biggest sovereign wealth funds in the world -- is currently spending most of its cash flow of around €1 billion ($1.3 billion) a week on shares listed on stock exchanges across the continent, Yngve Slyngstad told reporters in Oslo.

"What is happening in Europe today is probably positive for the investors and probably also eventually for the whole continent," he said.

"It was a consensus five years ago that Europe was faced with enormous challenges and did have to change to a significant extent... There is no doubt that this crisis will lead to a number of changes," he pointed out.

According to Slyngstad, the current difficulties plaguing Europe are forcing leaders to realise the importance of a "vibrant" private sector and to take stock of demographic factors like ageing populations and their effect on pensions.

The Norwegian oil fund, which contains all state revenues from the country's massive oil and gas sector, is valued at nearly €400 billion and is Europe's biggest investor, holding 2.0 percent of the continent's total capitalisation.

The fund was created in the beginning of the 1990s to help finance Norway's generous welfare state system once the wells run dry, and is invested in equities and bonds, as well as real estate.

After taking a two-year break from its European stock purchases starting in mid-2009, the fund once again began buying stocks across the continent in August, taking advantage of the slumping market prices.

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Since 2009, the fund has meanwhile dramatically reduced its exposure to bad debt by shrinking its bond holdings from the hardest-hit European countries -- Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Italy and Spain -- to less than €8 billion.

It also only holds around €100 million in bonds issued by the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), or just 0.7 percent of the bonds issued so far to help boost eurozone countries in trouble.

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