An Introduction to the Sovereign Wealth Funds in Kuwait

An Introduction to the Sovereign Wealth Funds in Kuwait

The first Sovereign Wealth Fund was started in the year 1953 in Kuwait. Initially the Sovereign Wealth Funds were started mainly by the Oil Exporting countries.

Sovereign Wealth Funds are state-owned investment funds. They invest in financial assets such as stocks, bonds, property, precious metals or other financial instruments. Sovereign wealth funds invest globally. They are used by countries to maximize their long term returns on the foreign currency holdings. Instead of keeping the excess money in the central bank or plugging it back into the system, a country may choose a Sovereign Wealth Fund to put it into investments. Sovereign Wealth Funds are funded by foreign currency reserves but managed separately from official currency reserves.

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Since 2000 the number and size of Sovereign Wealth Funds has grown at phenomenal rate. IMF, in 2008, had estimated them at about US$ 2-3 trillion and states that it expects the Sovereign Wealth Funds to reach around US$ 10 trillion over the next decade. Currently around 20 nations in the world hold a Sovereign Wealth Fund, with the top five funds holding about 70% of the assets under management.

A comparison of global financial assets (in $ trillion) is given below that highlights the importance of Sovereign Wealth Funds in today’s world (2008 figures).

Types of Sovereign Wealth Funds

The following classifications are available for Sovereign Wealth Funds:

Commodities: These SWFs are either owned or taxed by the government and are created through surplus forex earnings through commodity exports.

Over $2.5 trillion in value in 2008

Non–Commodities: These SWFs are created by transferring assets from official exchange reserves, i.e. assets accumulated as a result of current account surpluses.

$1.4 trillion in value in 2008

Stabilization Funds: To insulate the economy against the commodity price swings

Savings Funds: To enable savings for future generation through a diverse portfolio of assets

Reserve Investment Corporations: Have higher risk, but established for higher return on reserves

Development Funds: To fund the country’s domestic socio – economic projects

Contingent Pension Reserve: For financing health expenditures and social security, especially in countries with an ageing population

Major Factors that impact the size of Sovereign Wealth Funds

Price of Oil

Oil or commodity stabilization funds are largest subgroup of SWF

Fast accumulation of foreign reserves by the oil exporting countries – Due to booming oil prices, cheap credit and momentum driven capital flows

Keen not to repeat the mistakes of the last oil boom in the 70’s, so they established Sovereign Wealth Funds to preserve oil wealth for future generations and/or to smooth consumption

Oil stabilization funds have a contingent spending policy. (amassing wealth usually during times when oil prices are on a rising trend and spending it to support the local economy when GDP is shrinking) Hence it is essential to analyse and understand the magnitude and the relative importance of oil price shocks in comparison to other sources of macroeconomic risk.

For GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) countries oil price innovations are important short and long-term economic drivers of local GDP.

Investment guidelines- Stress on the importance of investing in assets which have negative correlation to oil price movements. This would help protect the total wealth

Fiscal Situation of a country

If a country is facing fiscal difficulties and it faces large fiscal deficits, then it becomes very difficult for such countries to maintain the size of the government owned Sovereign Wealth Funds. The government usually needs money to help finance such deficits and improve the economic condition and so they need to liquidate a portion of these funds

Economic Cycle

The financial crisis of 2008 had a negative impact on all the SWF’s in the world. Depression causes lower global trade reducing the current account surplus of countries like China, etc. This negatively impacts the size of Sovereign Wealth Funds

Current Account Balance

Established by countries which enjoy a current account surplus

Have led to a build-up of foreign currency reserves in these countries

Since 1995, the currency reserves of developing economies have seen a sevenfold increase.

Asian exporting countries’ combined current account surpluses grew from $53 billion in 2000 to $443 billion in 2007. The U.S. dollar accounted for slightly less than two-thirds of total central bank foreign reserve holdings of all the countries as of the first quarter of 2008

Foreign Exchange Reserves of a Country

Major exporting nations or natural resource (like oil, etc) providers may accumulate large amounts of FOREX reserves

Usually countries invest their foreign exchange reserves in risk free assets like the sovereign debt of other countries, e.g Securities issued by US Treasury

Some countries invest some portion of their excess foreign currency reserves in assets which would earn higher returns than treasury, such as the equity shares

Sovereign Wealth Funds vis-à-vis other type of funds

The key aspect in which Sovereign Wealth Funds differ from other type of funds (Hedge funds, Pension funds) is the objective of the investment:

Accumulate sufficient assets, through contributions and investment income

Satisfy all pension obligations of the contributors on a timely basis

Primary aim of most hedge funds is to reduce volatility and risk

Preserve capital and deliver positive returns under all market conditions

Unlike the aforementioned objectives of different funds, the aims of SWFs are as follows –

Comparison of investment vehicles

SWFs exceed the size of hedge funds (around US$1.7 trillion), but comparison is somewhat misleading because of leverage

SWF Portfolios are more diversified than traditional reserves holdings

Greater Stakes in Equities and Wider Geographical Dispersion than other forms of investment funds

Market Participants expect SWFs Portfolios to look like those of the larger Public Sector Pension Funds

Some SWFs are also exploring Alternative Investments, including Hedge Funds, Private Equity, and Real Estate

The following are the risks involved in SWFs which could culminate into a National Security Risk

Investments of Sovereign Wealth Funds

The Investment Behavior of Sovereign Wealth Fund is determined by the investment objectives. The objectives would largely determine the horizon of the Investment and the Risk/Return Trade-offs.

Singapore SWFs are the most active internationally – oriented funds and the Chinese fund has focused on the home market front.

Source: SOVEREIGN WEALTH FUND INVESTMENT PATTERNS AND PERFORMANCE (Apr 2009) by Bernardo Bortolotti, Veljko Fotak, William Megginson and William Miracky

Industrial and Industrial Distribution of SWF Investments:

Source: SOVEREIGN WEALTH FUND INVESTMENT PATTERNS AND PERFORMANCE (Apr 2009) by Bernardo Bortolotti, Veljko Fotak, William Megginson and William Miracky

Norway’s Government Pension Fund-Global is the world’s second largest SWF. The fund sub-contracts out all of its investments to asset managers, and so the fund is never listed.

SWFs favor investing in the financial industry. The 376 financial firm investments account for 30.9% of all deals, by number, and over half (54.6%) of the value of all acquisitions.

Singapore receives the largest number of SWF investments—mostly from Singaporean SWFs—total value of investments ($13.23 billion) yields sixth place ranking.

United States is the most popular target for SWFs with 10.9% of the number and 22.2% of the total value of SWF investments being channeled to US headquartered companies. China is the second most popular target nation, though almost all of the 79 deals worth $31.0 billion are domestic investments by the China Investment Corporation

Apart from investing in a few home-country firms, it seems clear that SWFs prefer to purchase stock and real estate in the capital markets of the principal English common law countries: America, Britain, and Australia.

Temporal Distribution OF Sovereign Wealth Fund Investments, January 2000-Dec 2008

Source: SOVEREIGN WEALTH FUND INVESTMENT PATTERNS AND PERFORMANCE (Apr 2009) by Bernardo Bortolotti, Veljko Fotak, William Megginson and William Miracky

The graph shows the massive spike in SWF investment in 2007 (and 2008) versus previous years, as well as the rising share of financial deals in aggregate investment value

Concerns raised about Sovereign Wealth Funds

Transparency/ Poor Accountability

There are serious policy concerns about the impact of SWF investment

May pursue political objectives or policies that are not strictly financial

Few are transparent and do not publish information about their assets, liabilities, or investment strategies

Previously Rogue traders managing SWF’s have adopted large speculative positions and lost heavily. These Traders acted without the consent of the appropriate credit risk managers.

Largest share of assets is with the countries in which the state has played a dominant role in the society and the economy; and where representative institutions are relatively less established

Global Macroeconomic Stability

Macroeconomic imbalances – Over-consumption by the United States, and mercantilist policies of North-East Asian countries, particularly China.

Continued acquisition of excess reserves and policies to maintain under-valued currencies, perpetuate imbalances and adversely impact on financial stability

Mitigated by provision of liquidity that the SWFs can potentially provide

Conflicts of Interest, Potential Insider Trading and Regulatory Effectiveness

When governments which are regulators become investors

SWFs as government agencies could have access to commercial and security sensitive information. Could also lead to insider-trading

Prosecuting officials of foreign governments – Diplomatic dilemma

Potential to Disrupt Financial Markets

Cause volatility in markets

Use status as government instruments to compete unfairly


Protectionist reaction by the investee country government

Countries determine individually who can invest in what

Exercising Influence as a Shareholder

Shareholders with even seemingly small ownership percentages could exercise influence disproportionate to their shareholding

Use their influence in a company to:

extract technology

protecting their national industries from competition

Disguised Political Objectives

If the governments will use the SWFs simply as financial tools or to implement political power

Political objectives might influence their management

Use funds to create artificial monopolies

Transfer of strategic assets

Key industries and technologies

Trade & state secrets

Natural resources

Economic Implications of Sovereign Wealth Funds

— Increase in demand for capital market products

SWFs enjoy considerable freedom in their investment decisions and are expected to maximize performance, hence a substantial inflow of funds from SWFs in emerging economies expected

In their asset management, SWFs behave similar to investment, pension, hedge or private equity funds; therefore, they are seeking to diversify by choosing a wide range of asset classes in different countries.

This suggests that SWF growth will likely lead to an increase in demand for stocks, private and public bonds, as well as real estate, but also private equity, possibly also funds or hedge funds, as well as the use of derivative instruments.

— Substitution effects on asset classes

The investment of central bank reserves which were previously in liquid assets would be replaced by investments in assets which have a higher expected returns, i.e. stocks or private bonds

This may have a perceivable impact on market demand and yields

— Demand for asset management and investment services

SWFs have the choice of outsourcing all or a part of their funds to outside fund managers; can purchase parts of the asset-management value chain from independent suppliers

Market analysis and investment evaluation, portfolio construction and monitoring, securities trading, clearing and settlement, hedging and risk mitigation are services which will pick up

Complex investment banking services like advisory, valuation and due diligence, legal and accounting advice, placement and distribution, and settlement services will incresae

Impact on exchange rates and asset prices

Impact asset prices and exchange rates through price pressures or a change in risk aversion

A direct impact on asset prices or exchange rates through price pressures triggered by SWF demand (e.g. equities) or supply (e.g. government bonds)

Impact on asset prices through a rise in global risk aversion, given their return-orientation and longer-term investment horizon.

Potential risks to international financial stability

Triggering “herding” behavior

Large sums of capital are concentrated in the hands of a limited number of large actors. In the absence of SWFs, these surpluses would be distributed among domestic citizens

The presence of a large player with a high-risk appetite can induce market behaviour that could lead to a negative outcome.

Lack of transparency and short-term volatility

Inducing other traders to mimic strategies, leading to greater buying or selling on one side of the market

Since SWFs have become more widely known, many analysts have tried to anticipate their strategies, based on the investment strategies of similar institutional investors. The lack of transparency about the holdings of SWFs introduces an element of uncertainty into markets

Non-economic objectives and financial protectionism

A protectionist backlash against SWFs would restrict cross-border investment and slow economic growth. The reaction of Western states to SWF investment may lead to the adoption of barriers, preventing the free movement of capital

Investor activism and monitoring of managers

Many SWFs have done their utmost to prove that they will be passive investors, including forgoing any voting rights. While this may ward off protectionist sentiment, it may also impede the monitoring of managers. When a company experiences large capital losses, more active investors usually push for some sort of reform to avoid losses in the future

Impact of the recent Financial Crisis on the Sovereign Wealth Funds

Not all SFWs suffered equally,

Libya’s SWF ($50.6 billion) returned profits of about $2.4 billion since 2006, (78% of the portfolio invested in short-term financial instruments and only $8 billion in equities, spread mostly across North Africa and Asia.)

The Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA), did not lose much due to its conservative dollar-and-bond-heavy portfolio.

Lessons learned : Spurred SWFs to rebalance their portfolios within individual asset classes,

Moving developed market investments away from equities and towards bonds.

Allows SWFs to increase their holdings of more liquid bonds, without sacrificing their other developed and emerging market investments; perhaps showing that SWFs believe the prospects for growth among higher-risk and higher return equities are highest outside the US.

Despite global crisis, SWFs have continued to follow two core investment mantras

(1) Capitalising upon short-term market lows for long-term gain

(2) Investing in industries that help build the comparative advantage of the home country

These mantras may not be the best strategy. : Sovereigns are more likely to call upon SWFs for domestic stabilisation purposes.

SWFs will need to hold a large share of counter-cyclical assets to avoid realising large losses.

Real estate, commodities and direct investments in firms that enhance a sovereign’s comparative advantage tend to move pro-cyclically with the SWF’s domestic economy.

Hence SWFs face a pull between market opportunities, and core investment competencies.

Lastly, sovereign governments have re-evaluated the management and oversight of SWFs.

Slowdown may only be transitory. – High commodity prices return and large global imbalances will increase the volume of their inflows.

Strong inflows into SWF is very likely:

(1) Unwillingness of Chinese policymakers to alter their currency peg

(2) Continued rise in commodity demand

(3) Nascent stage of renewable energy technologies

China Sovereign Wealth Fund

China Investment Corporation (CIC)

One of the largest SWFs after UAE and Singapore

Established in 2007 with $200 billion AUM. It has grown to a value of $332 at year end 2009

$2.5 trillion in currency reserves in China

Want to utilize these reserves for the benefit of the state, modelled according to Singapore’s Temasek Holdings

Initial investment:

Invest in ~50 large enterprises around the world

Special treasury bonds issued to raise $207.9 billion – to create capital


11 member board of directors

Reports to the State Council of the country

Considerable influence of China’s MoF

Investment Strategies:

Need for high return rates given the access to the country foreign exchange reserves

Focus on a portfolio of financial products

Considering investments in Hong Kong and Taiwan

Considering opening overseas branches

Has invested money in struggling financial firms during the time of US financial crisis. E.g. Morgan Stanley

Looking to invest in sectors like natural resources, telecommunication and real estate


Gives China a theoretical ability to purchase controlling interests in major corporations, raising potential national security concerns

Countries with huge trade deficits at more risk

Concerns about the sovereign wealth fund’s clear investment strategy free form the political influences of the country

Major Investments:

Implications for China’s economy:

New vehicle for managing forex reserves; soak up excess liquidity

Prevent domestic inflation or speculative bubble in China due to excess money supply

Reduced pressure to appreciate currency (allegedly undervalued)

Accumulation of US debt with excess money not very profitable; gives the government to earn a positive rate of return on investments

Implications for Global Financial Markets and the US Economy:

Types of investments made is a critical issue

Shift in portfolio from US treasury to other assets could lead to upward pressures on the interest rate (currently Fed trying to bring them down)

Purchase of strategic assets for geopolitical purposes will raise security concerns

Singapore Sovereign Wealth Fund

Temasek Holdings

Incorporated in 1974 and supported by 12 affiliates. It has a portfolio of S$186 Bn as on 31 March 2010 which focuses on emerging economies

Initial portfolio had 35 investments and the value of the portfolio was S$ 354 million; investments included shipping companies among others. Gradually, Singtel and SingPower were transferred to the company.

Funded through the dividends from the portfolio, divestment earning and leveraging. Close to 75% of the exposure is to the emerging markets of Asia with sector focus being on financial services; telecommunications, media & technology; and transportation & industrials.

Temasek Claimed in 2008 that it couldn’t be classified as an SWF as it sells assets for new investments and this does not require approval from the government

Investment Strategies of Temasek

Portfolio Investments by Geography

Majority of the holdings are in the emerging economies of Asia, a large part is in Singapore itself.

Portfolio Investments by Sector

It has a diversified portfolio with investments in varied fields.

Performance of Temasek Holdings

Tamasek Holdings has given a consistent return of 17% compounded annual return over its life and 42% is their one- year total shareholder return. Tamasek Holdings has a strong foundation base of Singapore Blue Chip companies. In the latest fiscal year the Wealth Added was S$42 Billion.


Tamasek’s close association with the Singapore Ministry of Finance has been a bone of contention

When ST Telmedia (Tamasek company) acquired a stake in Indostat there were labour strikes & protests

When ST Telemedia tried to acquire a stake in Global Crossing the deal had to be approved by the US government as it was wary of foreign control.

A major controversy took place when Tamasek acquired Shin Corporation (Thai prime minister owned company). This led to massive protests and a political crisis in the country. Lately Tamasek had to divest a large part of its holdings.

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Government of Singapore Investment Corporation

It is a global investment management company founded in 1981. Its main aim is to manage Singapore’s foreign reserves. It invests in fixed income, equities, treasury, ural resource, & currencies, private equity, real estate, and infrastructure.

GIC Investment Process

The aim is to construct a diversified multi-asset class portfolio. This can be achieved by increasing alternative investments such as private equity and real estate.

In 2009-10 the Portfolio underwent a loss of more than 20%.


GIC had invested in UBS and Citigroup to a large extent. During the financial crises GIC converted its preferred stock holding to common stock at a price of USD 3.25/ share to reduce their loss.

Middle East Sovereign Wealth Fund

Structure of Sovereign Wealth Funds (mid 2008)

Kuwait Investment Authority


Established in

US $ Billion


Investment Style

Entity Structure





Mostly Portfolio


The Kuwait Investment Authority (KIA) is the parent body of the Kuwait Investment Office. This was initially established as the Kuwait Investment Board. The KIA invests in the Arab, Local, and International Markets.

Investment Strategy & Objectives

The Kuwait Investment Authority is a long term investor. Objectives include –

Maintain the real value of the funds provided to the Office for the Future Generation Fund,

Ensuring a fair return over the long-term period

Increase their reputation as a progressive and expert institution in the international financial world.

Transparency Rating: 6

Iran Oil Stabilization Fund


Established in

US $ Billion


Investment Style

Entity Structure







This fund was started to invest Iran’s oil revenues and also provide stabilization against fluctuating oil revenues.

Their investment entity is called the Iran Foreign Investment Company (IFIC). It was incorporated in March 1998. It was created as a Private Joint Stock company to manage and expand Iranian holdings abroad.

IFIC has investments in energy, telecom and IT, banking, insurance, stock markets, industry, mining, oil, gas and petrochemicals, as well as new and future technologies.

Transparency Rating: 1

Bahrain Mumtalakat Holdings


Established in

US $ Billion


Investment Style

Entity Structure







The primary source of funds and of wealth comes from oil. Currently, their investment model places heavily weight on the local Bahrain economy. They have invested in a number of industries ranging from real estate to telecommunications.

The fund has primarily invested in state owned enterprises such as Gulf Air, Bahrain Real Estate Company (Edamah), and the General Poultry Company. They are in the process of divesting their investment portfolio.

Abu Dhabi Investment Authority


Established in

US $ Billion


Investment Style

Entity Structure







The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority’s (ADIA) was established in 1976. The main funding source is from a financial surplus from oil exports.

Investment Strategy and Objectives

The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority invests in a variety of asset classes. Benchmarks can range from the MSCI Index to the S&P 500 Index.

Some of their asset allocation consists of:

Equities – Developed Markets

Equities – Emerging Markets

Hedge Funds


Sovereign Debt

Corporate Debt

Real Estate (Funds or Direct Investments)

Private Equity


Analysis of Indian case for SWF

Major reasons for building Sovereign Wealth Funds:

Excess Foreign Reserves:

India needs to park their excess reserves as there is a cost involved in maintaining such reserves/ liquidity which is the loss of possible returns.

Better Management of foreign Reserves:

The foreign reserves could be invested for long term in slightly risky and illiquid assets which can provide better returns.

The Sovereign Wealth Funds of Singapore has managed to gives returns in excess of 15% for many years.

Acquiring Strategic Assets:

SWF help the domestic companies to arrange the necessary funds to acquire these assets.

The China Investment Corporation (CIC) is mainly investing in the Power Sector trying to acquire strategic assets abroad.

Major arguments against creating a Sovereign Wealth Fund:

India’s reserves are built from capital account inflows and are hence assets that are subject to capital flight:

India has huge merchandise trade deficit and current account deficit whereas reservesof other countries have been built up from huge current account surpluses.

India’s reserves are driven by capital account surpluses rather than the current account. Hence they is need to maintain reserves in liquid and lower-yielding assets

Sovereign Wealth Funds usually make illiquid, long term investments.

Political Independence in Management and formation:

Control of the RBI or the Ministry of Finance.

Fund will be managed too cautiously affecting the returns of the fund. If the investments are not made for a long term horizon in some slightly risky assets then the entire purpose of creating such a fund will be defeated.

Concerns about accountability and fiscal indiscipline

Difficulty in acquiring Strategic assets:

Direct investment in strategic assets by a Sovereign Wealth Fund will invite severe criticism for its alleged non-commercial and political objectives.

Santiago Principles

Possibility of huge losses:

No guarantee that the investments made by the Indian Sovereign Wealth Fund will be profitable

During the global financial crisis, Sovereign Wealth Fund from West Asia, Singapore, China and Norway suffered huge losses in their investments in Western banks and private equity funds.

Global SWFs



Middle East

Gulf Cooperation Council






$ 200 Bn

More than $ 2000 Bn

$ 186 Bn

$ 124 Bn

Source of Country’s SWF

Current Account Surplus

Oil and commodity based SWF

Current Account Surplus

Current Account Surplus

Additional Capital

Special bonds issued worth $ 207 Bn

Low proportion of funds borrowed from outside

Funded through dividends, divestment earnings

Funded through dividends, divestment earnings of PSU

Investment Strategy

2/3 Capital in US Treasury Bills

Focus on real Estate, natural resources and telecommunications

Different investing strategy – LT to speculative and hedging purposes

Asset Allocation consists of equities, futures, sovereign debt

Asia focused fund ; in the sectors of financial services, telecom , media and transport

Focus on diversifying and investing in alternative investments like real estate and private equity

Is India setting up a Sovereign Wealth Fund?

In a recent report by SEBI in 2009, the SEBI has recommended the government not to set up a Sovereign Wealth Fund.

According to the Indian express July 20, 2010, a proposal for setting up a sovereign wealth fund (SWF) is expected to be put before a group of ministers. It was reported in the newspaper that the Sovereign Wealth Fund will be created with an investment of $10 billion.

An Indian Sovereign Wealth Fund would be a pool of money, controlled by government, which will be used to purchase overseas assets. This idea is weighed down with difficulties in the context of poor governance in India. The main reason quoted for setting up this fund was to help Indian companies acquire overseas assets.

Size and Investment Strategy of the Indian Sovereign Wealth Fund

Size of Investment:

India should use only 15% of reserves for investment. This is because India has current account deficit and does not want to take the risk of a heavy loss.

Mode of Investing:

Indirect: Acquiring strategic assets is a bone of contention among many a nation, PSUs can be use in this purpose. Like Temasek, can run them professionally and divest them


The eastern European and African countries are mineral rich. China has already acquired natural resource asset in most of Africa. India through its PSU ‘s like OVL needs to use the funds of SWF to acquire natural resources like oil fields, coal fields

India should not invest so heavily in alternative investments. This is because Private equity companies are not transparent; hence there is no knowledge of what India is investing in

India should invest in long term projects, similar to CIC like European power plants and renewable energy plants.

In case India wishes to invest in corporations, India should follow Tamasek and focus on the Asian corporates as their growth prospect is very strong

India should diversify as much as possible to increase return

India should try to establish an independent management and accounting system

Countries that can develop SWFs

We have tried to analyze which other countries can develop a Sov


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