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Hedge fund manager to lead Norway sovereign fund after US$124b loss

[OSLO] Norway's sovereign wealth fund, the world's largest, named a London-based hedge fund manager as its new chief executive on Thursday and said it had lost US$124 billion this year as stock markets tanked due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Norwegian-born Nicolai Tangen, until now chief executive of AKO Capital, which he established in 2005, will take the helm in September, succeeding Yngve Slyngstad who announced his resignation last year.

"Tangen has built up one of Europe's leading investment firms and has delivered very good financial results as an international investment manager," Norwegian central bank Governor Oeystein Olsen said while announcing the appointment.

"He has extensive experience with equity management, which is the fund's largest asset class," Olsen told a news conference in Oslo.

The AKO Capital partnership has around 70 employees, managing around US$16.4 billion, according to its own website.

By contrast, the Norwegian wealth fund is worth US$930 billion - though that is down from US$1.17 trillion in early February, before stock markets fell.

The wealth fund has huge market influence because it owns in region of 1.5 per cent of the world's listed shares. However it has seen the limit of its clout this year as the pandemic has wrought havoc.

Its investment portfolio dropped 16.2 per cent, all but erasing the 20 per cent gains made last year, while its stock market portfolio - its main asset class - has lost 22.8 per cent of its value, it said.

The wealth fund, a unit of the central bank, is formally known as Norges Bank Investment Management. It invests the proceeds of Norway's oil and gas industry in foreign stocks, bonds and real estate.

"This is not only a dream job, this is my boyhood dream job," said Mr Tangen via video link from London, comparing it to fellow Norwegian Ole Gunnar Solskjaer taking the job of manager at English Premier League soccer club Manchester United.

Asked what was his motivation for taking on the job given that he would be earning less money, Mr Tangen told Reuters: "It is clearly not the money even though the salary is a very good leadership salary in Norway."

"As a Norwegian this is a huge thing," he said in a phone interview from London. "It is a huge honour to be asked and it is a huge responsibility to safeguard the capital of the country and the wealth of future generations."

He declined to comment on the coronavirus outbreak, saying Mr Slyngstad remained CEO until he took over in September.

Mr Tangen will move back to Norway, where he is perhaps best known for donating a collection of modern art to his home town of Kristiansand, which plans to house it in a converted grain silo.

Norwegian business magazine Kapital last year estimated Mr Tangen's net worth to be 5.5 billion Norwegian crowns (S$747.8 million). He could face the prospect of paying annual wealth taxes of 60-70 million crowns, likely far exceeding the salary from his new position.

Outgoing CEO Slyngstad earned 6.7 million crowns last year. He is stepping down after 12 years on the job, during which the fund's value rose sharply thanks to rising stock markets and solid income from Norway's energy sector. 

REUTERS