Azerbaijan: Sofaz steps out of its comfort zone
The State Oil Fund of Azerbaijan has always feared risk. Now it’s seeking higher yields, branching out into listed securities, real estate, gold and emerging market debt. But is this ultra-cautious fund really ready?
Shahmar Movsumov is a rock star in Azerbaijan. This must be true because he is described as such by his minders, by local businessmen and, most compellingly and personally, by Ell & Nicki, a bouncy Azeri pop duo, winners of the 2011 Eurovision song contest, who also describe him as "pretty cool".
Rock star or not – and if he is one, he is more Chris Martin than Keith Moon – the amenable Movsumov, who also bears more than a passing resemblance to Robert McNamara, the US secretary of defence during the Vietnam War, is one of the most important people in this tiny Central Asian state. He is certainly more opinionated than any of the bland seat-fillers in its rubber-stamp parliament.
As executive director of the State Oil Fund of Azerbaijan (Sofaz), the nation’s sovereign wealth fund, Movsumov dictates how and where the country reinvests its single recognizable asset – the cash generated by selling oil and gas to Europe, the US and East Asia.
Not that Movsumov appears fazed by such power and responsibility.