Norway's oil fund invests in Latvia

Last year Norway's Government Pension Fund invested Norwegian sovereign wealth in Latvia for the first time. A total $1.4 million was invested into pharma company Olainfarm, the fiber glass company Valmieras stikla šķiedra (Valmiera Glass), and HansaMatrix, a high-tech manufacturer, reported Rus.lsm.lv on May 9.

The oil fund's Baltic investments total $18 million, out of the fund's $940 billion wealth.

In Latvia, the fund invested into Nasdaq-listed companies, buying up 1.3% of HansaMatrix for $200,000, 0.5% of Olainfarm for $647,000 and 0.74% of Valmiera Glass for $582,000.

Currently the investments seem to be well-timed, with Olainfarm's share price having grown 40% since last year, while Valmiera Glass shares are now 20% up from when they were bought up last November.

HansaMatrix share are up a relatively meager 7% from its entry into the stock market last June.

The fund invested $5.86 million into Lithuania in Apranga, Siauliu Bankas, Linas Agro, Grigiskes, and ESO.

While Estonia got the bulk of the investment with $11 million put into Tallink, Olympic, Merko Ehitus, Ekspress Grupp, Silvano Fashion Group, and Tallanna Kaubamaja.

Experts: This is a historic moment

Unofficial sources told Lsm.rus.lv that Estonia's LHV Bank helped the fund pick local companies suitable for investment. This seems to be corroborated by the fact that the bank helped HansaMatrix enter the stock market and find investors.

"I cannot comment on our clients' operations, but the fact of the entry of the Norwegian fund into Latvia and the Baltics — that's a historic moment," Ivars Bergmanis, head of the institutional markets department at LHV, told Rus.lsm.lv. 

"It's a good signal for the local market: to attract large investors, quality is more important than size. You don't have to have capitalization over €100 million. Small and medium-sized businesses can be interesting to international giants if they have transparent statements, western management quality, and good relations with minority shareholders," he said.

Andrejs Martinovs, head of INVL Asset Management, said that these companies were picked due to two factors. 

First of all, they were picked for the business itself: their growth perspectives and the quality of the business plan. Secondly, the invested companies have a good relationship with their minority investors. The returns aren't put into semi-legal schemes that fill the pockets of controlling shareholders but are instead paid out via dividends or put into development.

It is telling that the pharma holding Grindeks is not in the investment list. Just ten years ago, it was one of the most popular companies for institutional investors. However, due to the actions of Grindeks' main shareholder, nowadays the company, say experts, has found itself "outside the civilized market", meaning pension funds won't buy its shares.

The Norwegian fund bought the best the Baltics had to offer. Considering last year's price level, they bought it cheap, Andrejs Martinovs said.

"That they have come here is a positive sign for the market," he said.

"And it's a success that they did not invest into companies known for their low level of corporate management and problems in their relationships to minority shareholders. I think it's a signal both to the regulator and issuers: if serious investors are ready to bring money into Latvia, we have to conform. So that it doesn't seem like the stock market and the business environment complies with quality standards only on paper," said Martinovs.

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