Sovereign Wealth Funds

Sovereign wealth funds today control over $5.4 trillion in assets, roughly equal to the total assets managed by all the hedge funds and private equity funds in the world. According to the SWF Institute, a US think-tank which conducts research on SWFs, there are over 50 sovereign wealth funds operating globally, of which 20 have been set up since 2005. The largest is Norway’s Government Pension Fund with $716 billion in AuM followed by the UAE’s Abu Dhabi Investment Authority ($627 billion), China’s SAFE Investment Company ($568 billion) and Saudi Arabia’s SAMA Foreign Holdings ($533 billion). There are eight more SWFs with over $100 billion in AuM (of which three are Chinese, two are Singaporean, and one is from each of Kuwait, Russia and Qatar). The oldest SWF among the top 15 is the Kuwaiti Investment Authority ($342 billion) which was established in 1953 and the newest is Russia’s National Welfare Fund ($176 billion) set up in 2008. An SWF is defined as a state-owned investment fund whose assets are derived from national reserves and whose purpose is to generate long-term benefits for its national economy (such as fiscal stabilization, economic development or pension reserves) by investing in domestic and foreign financial assets. Funding for SWFs comes from balance of payments surpluses, foreign exchange reserves, privatizations, budget surpluses and/or commodity exports. A nation can have more than one SWF, as evidenced by China, Singapore and the UAE. Recently, some SWFs have moved from purely passive investing into proactive board representation, shareholder activism and leveraged buy-outs. In 2008, the International Working Group of Sovereign Wealth Funds adopted voluntary best practices for SWFs known as the Santiago Principles, which include macroeconomic coordination, fund governance, investment policies, public transparency, risk controls and a commitment by SWFs not to exploit their privileged access to government information and influence to the detriment of private sector competitors.

  • Adam Morgan

    Very interesting. It seems that the Santiago Principles may someday prove to be a very important agreement. If SWFs continue to grow, as they appear to be doing, and if they continue to play a role in Shareholder activism, the Santiago Principles could serve as the basis for a legal framework that guides or limits a government’s hand in the markets.