Norwegian fund nibbling at Malaysian small and mid caps

PETALING JAYA: Norway-based Norges, one of the largest foreign funds investing in Malaysian equities, has been nibbling small to mid cap stocks that offer exciting upside here.

It has taken up small stakes in 53 Bursa Malaysia-listed companies, with total investments of around RM1.7bil, according to a fund manager.

Norges has a market value of 5,038 billion kroner (RM2.73 trillion) as of end-2013.

Norges began investing heavily in the Malaysian market since 2010 and is now sitting on a paper gain of some RM600mil, giving its entire holdings in Malaysia a value of some RM2.3bil.

Among Norges’ investments are a string of mid-sized oil and gas firms such as Alam Maritim Bhd, Daya Bhd, Scomi Energy Services Bhd and Barakah Offshore Petroleum Bhd.

It has even invested in special purpose acquisition companies Sona Petroleum Bhd and Cliq Energy Bhd.

“An investment from Norges is a positive endorsement from an independent party. It shows that the company has fulfilled the international standards of a foreign sovereign fund,” said one fund manager, who tracks Norges’ movements.

In Malaysia, Norges’ appointed fund manager since 2010 has been Kenanga Investors Bhd. Every year since then, sources said that Norges had allocated Kenanga at least RM150mil as it was pleased with its local counterpart’s performance.

Prior to Kenanga Investors, Norges’ appointed fund manager was RHB Investment Bhd.

“Kenanga Investors has been investing in small and mid caps even before the recent run-up in such companies over the last one year. The big run-up in many of the small oil and gas companies has significantly enhanced Norges’ performance here,” said a fund manager familiar with Norges’ strategy.

This indicates that Norges has a lot of interest in the sector, which isn’t surprising considering that Norges itself has gained its funds from the oil and gas revenues of Norway’s state-owned pension fund.

Aside from oil and gas stocks, Norges has also invested in other sectors such as banking and property.

“The reason it has done well is because it identified mid cap investing very early on. While the Employees Providents Fund (EPF) only articulated its interest in investing in mid-sized companies last year, Norges has been doing that for the last 3 to 4 years,” said the source.

Last June, EPF chief executive officer Datuk Shahril Ridza Ridzuan said it was looking at making investments in 40 mid-cap stocks, adding that the fund was already invested in a number of mid-sized companies.

He said the EPF was happy to support companies that fulfilled its investment criteria, which include having ample liquidity, the ability to generate cash flows and dividends, and having good corporate governance practices in place.

Slightly differing from the EPF which oftentimes take substantial stakes, Norges has a policy of not going beyond 3% in any particular stock, sources said.

“Norges is in the business of portfolio management. It isn’t in the business of running companies,” said the source.

Norges, also referred to as the Norwegian oil fund, is managed by Norges Bank Investment Management, the asset management unit of the Norwegian central bank. Norges is mandated to hold 60% in stocks and 35% in bonds, and is aiming to build up a 5% holding in real estate.

As at end-2013, it is invested in 8,000 stocks in 82 countries and owns 1.3% of the world’s listed companies. Between 1998 to 2013, Norges has been delivering annual returns of 5.7%.

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