World’s biggest stock owner says banks displaced tech as drivers of returns

The world’s biggest owner of listed equities, Norway’s $1.3 trillion wealth fund, says financial firms have displaced tech stocks as the main drivers of returns.

Norges Bank Investment Management, which owns about 1.5% of global stocks, beat its benchmark index in the first quarter, and also outperformed the MSCI World Index.

“Over time, and especially last year, it was technology and green stocks” that drove returns, Trond Grande, the fund’s deputy chief executive, said by phone. “What we’ve seen in the first quarter has been a bit different,” with the best returns coming from finance and energy.

For finance, “we should see this in the context of rising long rates,” which means banks can “lend at higher margins,” Grande said. Financial stocks make up 14.6% of the fund’s investments. Public records show JPMorgan Chase & Co. is its biggest bank holding, worth about $3.5 billion. The investor owns roughly $2.9 billion of Bank of America Corp. and $2.5 billion in UBS Group AG. Its exposure to the financial sector last year delivered a loss of almost $12 billion.

The rise in interest rates that Grande says is behind the financial industry’s outperformance comes amid speculation that inflation might be making a comeback, fed in part by record stimulus packages in the US and Europe.

The fund’s equity portfolio returned 6.6% last quarter. Bonds lost 3.2% while real estate was up 1.4%. Overall, it generated a 4% return. Rising raw material and oil prices propped up the fund’s portfolio of energy stocks, Grande said.

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