Alberta and Norway: Two oil powers, worlds apart – by Brian Milner and Jeff Lewis (Globe and Mail – August 15, 2015)

The Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

OSLO AND CALGARY — s world oil production outstrips demand, China’s outlook darkens and prices plumb levels not seen since the Great Recession, energy-exporting countries around the world face a prolonged period of thinner revenues and deepening economic woes.

The chill winds have now reached Norway, long regarded as the world’s most prudent manager of an economy heavily exposed to the ups and downs of commodity prices.

Faced with the steepest decline in oil and gas spending in a decade and a half and the biggest job losses since the global financial meltdown, the centre-right Norwegian government is pledging to tap more of the country’s accumulated resource wealth in an effort to stanch the bleeding.

The sudden decline in its fortunes has put a spotlight on Norway’s unusual handling of its gusher of resource cash over the years, parking 100 per cent of the government’s revenue from royalties and dividends in a fund that is barred from investing a krone in the domestic economy.

It’s a vastly different approach compared with Alberta and other energy producers, which set little aside from their energy windfall and are now facing bleaker fiscal and economic conditions without much of a cushion to soften the blows of tumbling oil prices.

The Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund, the province’s rainy-day umbrella, barely has enough capital to deal with a few scattered storms. Norway’s equivalent, which was partly modelled on Alberta’s when it was set up in the early 1990s, could handle a deluge of almost biblical proportions.

Consider the fortune amassed by Norway’s prosperity fund. Norway’s petroleum treasure chest holds assets totalling some seven trillion kroner ($1.1-trillion), making it the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund. It’s a potential shock absorber of a size and scope not available to any other energy producer outside the Arabian Peninsula.

The fund has grown so huge that it now owns 1.3 per cent of the global equity market, covering more than 9,000 companies in 75 countries. At the end of 2014, its Canadian equity holdings alone totalled $12-billion (U.S.) spread across 270 companies.

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