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Investment opportunities, not drawdowns, are the biggest challenge for sovereign funds

If a sovereign wealth fund is a coat for a rainy day, then why is hardly anyone putting one on when it’s been pouring down since March?

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One of the curiosities of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the economic carnage it has wrought, is that it has not prompted countries to draw down on the funds they have built to provide resilience at moments exactly like these.

The International Forum of Sovereign Wealth Funds (IFSWF) and State Street recently released research showing that sovereign wealth funds had not undertaken large-scale liquidations to provide liquidity for governments, despite widespread expectation that they would. Only two of 10 funds they spoke to had been drawn down. 

On June 9, as the IFSWF launched its annual review for 2019, its executives confirmed this was still the case. Norway’s sovereign wealth fund is undertaking its biggest ever withdrawal, Oman’s fund has been repurposed, and Ireland’s Strategic Investment Fund has set up a new €2 billion Pandemic Stabilization and Recovery Fund – but otherwise, it’s business as usual.

Lessons learned

Why should this be? Partly, it’s because of the lessons of the global financial crisis. Then, several sovereign wealth funds – which back then were mostly smaller and less sophisticated than today – liquidated funds to deal with the crisis of the day, often by selling equities, the result being that they locked in losses at the bottom.

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