Norway's PM walks a fine line on state's slice of Statoil
Jens Stoltenberg, Norway's Labor Prime Minister, performed a balancing act today in addressing the hotly debated issue of the state's direct financial interest (SDFI) in Statoil AS, claiming 'private owners' would improve the oil giant's commercial odds in the current climate of industry consolidation but suggesting that the state should 'continue to own the major part' of the company.
STAVANGER�Jens Stoltenberg, Norway's Labor Prime Minister, performed a balancing act today in addressing the hotly debated issue of the state's direct financial interest (SDFI) in Statoil AS, claiming "private owners" would improve the oil giant's commercial odds in the current climate of industry consolidation but suggesting that the state should "continue to own the major part" of the company.
Speaking on the opening day of the Offshore Northern Seas 2000 conference in Stavanger, Stoltenberg stressed that Statoil and SDFI are "tools of their time," holdovers from an era when state-owned oil companies were the norm that would benefit from reassessment.
"Statoil was established at a time where state-owned oil companies were the rule, not the exception," he stated, adding that the SDFI had been instrumental in "ensuring value creation" for Norwegian society at large.
However, Stoltenberg feels the transformation under way in the global energy industry militates against leaving Statoil's ownership structure untouched.
"It is an appropriate time to ask whether the current organization of the state involvement is the right one," he said.
Statoil's environment is one of intense competition and restructuring," Stoltenberg explained. "I believe we can strengthen Statoil's opportunities by allowing private owners into the company. This would be a contribution to clarify the state ownership role and the goals of the company itself...[and] would add new ownership resources and give Statoil access to capital markets in a new way.
"In addition," he said, "it would allow the state to share some of the risk while at the same time increasing the level of measurement of the company's performance."
Stoltenberg noted that the SDFI, which has historically "represented substantial value" for Norwegians, had been developed through "considerable" public investments and should therefore be preserved to ensure "high returns" on society's behalf.
"There is broad political support for Statoil's ambitions of seeking growth opportunities internationally, so that experience and knowledge gained in Norway can be put to use elsewhere," he stated. "We want Statoil to continue to be an engine for industrial development and growth.
"In general, we need to consider whether both a restructuring and a more active management of the SDFI is necessary in order to ensure future value creation," a consideration that, according to Stoltenberg, calls for government and industry to be "open minded."