How are countries around the world utilising their sovereign wealth funds during this time of crisis caused by COVID-19?
This is the question that the International Forum of Sovereign Wealth Funds (IFSWF) is trying to get an answer to as they have started to canvass their members in an attempt to produce research and insights into how long-term asset owners are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has caused acute stress and volatility in financial markets not experienced since the global financial crisis. As long-term investors and significant sources of patient capital, IFSWF members have an important role to play in helping to stabilise both national economies and the global financial system,” the IFSWF has stated.
“IFSWF will seek to shed light on how sovereign wealth funds are collectively approaching the current situation. It will also demonstrate how they are collaborating to share best practices and insights at this challenging time,” it stated.
The IFSWF is a voluntary organisation of global sovereign wealth funds committed to promoting good governance and investment management practices through dialogue, research and self-assessment.
The T&T Heritage and Stabilisation Fund is one of the members of the IFSWF.
According to Finance Minister Colm Imbert on April 27, the HSF was valued at US$6.1 billion.
Imbert said the HSF regained US$500 million in the weeks prior to his updated balance.
On September 29, 2000 under the leadership of then Prime Minister Basdeo Panday a “rainy day” fund was established for this country called the Interim Revenue Stabilisation Fund (IRSF).
The IRSF started with a balance of $415 million.
The Heritage and Stabilisation Fund was created by the Heritage and Stabilisation Act No. 6 of 2007 and was established with effect from March 15, 2007 to save and invest surplus petroleum revenue.
The Heritage and Stabilisation Fund started with a balance of US$ 1,402,148,155 which was transferred from the IRSF.
The hybrid fund established a Stabilisation component to insulate fiscal policy and the economy, from adverse swings in international oil and gas prices, while the Heritage Element was aimed at accumulating savings from the country’s exhaustible assets of oil and gas for future generations.
Apart from the COVID-19 pandemic and the measures taken to stop its spread locally, T&T has also been hit by the drastic fall in oil and gas prices.
This country’s deficit for fiscal 2020, which was originally estimated at $5.3 billion, is now expected to expand to $15.5 billion.
While the country has taken steps to access international financial assistance to address the unprecedented financial demands of ovid-19, such as US$300 million ($2 billion) from various multilateral agencies —US$20 million from the World Bank, US$130 million from the IADB and US$150 million from the Development Bank of Latin America (CAF) it has also amended the HSF regulations to facilitate emergency drawdowns.
“Further, we have taken steps to allow for emergency drawdowns from the Heritage and Stabilisation Fund (HSF), not exceeding US$1.5 billion ($10 billion) in any given year, for budgetary support in exceptional circumstances, such as the current pandemic.
“I wish to thank all members of this House for unanimously supporting the amendments to the legislation governing the HSF to allow for such drawdowns. As a country, we have long recognised the importance of building up a foreign exchange buffer through our HSF which now has a Net Asset value of US$6.1 billion, US$500 million more than when we assumed office in September 2015, despite withdrawals totalling US$600 million since then and the collapse of the US stock market last month,” Imbert said.
“I must emphasise to the national community and to those members opposite who seem obsessed with generating misinformation, that in rolling out our expanded fiscal and social relief programmes we have not yet withdrawn one dollar from the Heritage and Stabilisation Fund. I wish to assure all concerned, therefore, that drawdowns will be made from the Fund in a structured manner, only as and when required, and not arbitrarily or by vapse,” he said.
The HSF is ranked 51 out of the world’s sovereign largest wealth funds by total assets according to the Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute. But countries using their sovereign wealth funds at this time is not unheard of.
In fact, the Norges Bank Investment Management, the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, for the first time in its history will have to liquidate assets to cover withdrawals by Norway’s government.
The fund is valued at US$1 trillion.
Like T&T, Norway is suffering a crisis because of COVID-19 and the restrictive measures put in place to save lives as well as historic rout in oil.
Norges Bank Gov Oystein Olsen, said the fund provides “room to manoeuvre” through the worst economic crisis since World War II.
“It obviously is a positive feature of our society that we have this room to manoeuvre, unlike a number of other countries,” he said.
On Thursday, Olsen stunned markets by delivering a quarter-point rate cut to zero, the lowest ever in the country. He said the severe economic decline warranted ultra-low rates.
Norway’s government already withdrew more money from the fund in March than in any other month.
The pace of withdrawals is set to exceed the fund’s cash flow from dividends and interest payments.
That means that in order to provide the government with the money it needs, the fund has to dump assets.
Although exactly how much is not yet clear, the fund’s rebalancing requirements imply that its bond portfolio will see the biggest divestments.
In its latest estimate before a revised spending plan is released next week, Norway’s government said it expects this year’s budget to take a US$20 billion hit due to the lockdown.
But with Norway’s “huge” wealth fund backing up the state, Olsen said there’s “no drama in fiscal policy.”
Sovereign wealth funds in the Gulf are also set to take a hit as they withdraw billions to counter the recession triggered by the COVID-19.
The decline in assets could exceed $300 billion this year, according to the Institute of International Finance.
The impact will echo all the way to Wall Street, where asset managers count on capital from the funds sponsored by Abu Dhabi, Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
Now that these countries need the cash back home, hedge funds and private-equity firms risk losing a substantial piece of business.