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STAVANGER, Norway — Some Albertans may fancy themselves to be the blue-eyed Arabs of the north. If Norwegians were not so modest about their place in the world that boast would make the five million citizens of this overwhelmingly blue-eyed nation laugh.
A digital counter at the Norwegian Petroleum Museum tells the happy story: It turns over so quickly counting petro-kroners from the North Sea that all but the biggest numbers on the screen are a constant blur.
At a time when most of Norway’s European cousins confront grave economic problems and Canadians are fearful of being sucked into the continent’s financial quicksand, this Scandinavian nation remains an oasis of stability and calm. The reason, plainly, is that it has more than 3.5-trillion kroner ($600 billion U.S.) in the bank and counting.
Norway’s Government Pension Fund is only 20 years old but is more than 30 times the size of Alberta’s Heritage Investment Fund, which former premier Peter Lougheed started for “a rainy day” back in 1975. It is also bigger than Saudi Arabia’s and a close second in size to the one run by one of the sheikdoms of the United Arab Emirates.
Stavanger is Norway’s oil and gas capital.
The effects of the bounty that exists over the horizon can be seen everywhere in the harbour. Squat supply ships, many with helicopters, come and go at all hours, servicing massive oil rigs far out to sea. The city’s picturesque waterfront is packed with fine restaurants and hotels with pristine parks and beautifully groomed residential areas spread out along majestic fiords.
Meanwhile, back in Oslo, mandarins oversee what is probably the world’s most generous capitalist welfare system and financial experts quietly mull over where Norway’s hurricane-force sovereign fund should place the additional billions in surplus cash that accumulate every year.
Norway posts such monster economic statistics that it is impossible to avoid superlatives. So rosy are its books and so high its standard of living that it has been rated No. 1 on the UN’s Human Development Index for nine of the first 11 years of this century.
Canada was ranked 6th last year.
Norway owns more than one per cent of all the world’s stocks. It has the world’s highest GDP per capita in purchasing power parity — at about $47,000 per person that is nearly $12,000 more per person than Canada. It’s annual growth rate of 3.75 per cent makes it the superstar of the western world. So does its unemployment rate of only three per cent.
As well, as it wisely voted twice to stay out of the European Union and therefore not taking on any obligation to spend any kroner to bail out countries such as Greece and Italy, Norway was poised last week, according to news reports, to spend billions of euros buying up prime real estate in Paris with high-end German properties to be its next target. Its sovereign fund already spent more than half a billion dollars last year to buy a quarter-share in Queen Elizabeth’s Crown Estates, which is concentrated around London’s tony Regent Street.
For the rest of this article, please go to the National Post website: http://www.canada.com/business/Norway+been+roll+decades/6906763/story.html