Investing in the Land of the Midnight Sun
Understanding the value of the Oslo Stock Exchange
John Erik Stacy
OSEBX beating the DOW
Few Americans know how to invest in Norway, but, considering the gloomy economic news on this side of the pond these days, perhaps it is time to look toward the land of the midnight sun? As a point of fact, the Oslo Stock Exchange Benchmark Index (the OSEBX) did better than the Dow in 2007 and continues to outshine major US indices in 2008. Had you put $100 in a fund tracking the OSEBX at the beginning of 2007 it would now be worth about $140. True, the appreciation of the Kroner relative to the dollar is a major component. But even ignoring the slide of the dollar, OSEBX gained about 15% since the start of 2007, albeit through a rocky ride. The Dow has been every bit as jittery, but, in contrast to OSEBX, has arrived June 2008 with no gain relative to a starting point 18 months ago (see chart comparing OSBEX, NOK and DOW).
Oslo Børs Heavy hitters that trade on NYSE
What then, does an American investor need to know about the Oslo Stock Exchange? And how can Americans get a piece of the action on “Oslo Børs”? First off, the OSE is the major exchange for stocks and other securities in Norway. Three of the major stocks listed on OSE are cross-listed on the NYSE, including StatOilHydro (STO), Frontline (FRO) and Royal Caribbean Cruises (RCL). These companies are heavy hitters in a global perspective. StatoilHydro produces about a million barrels of oil every day. Frontline operates about 80 vessels moving oil around the world. Royal Caribbean has 35 cruise ships. As one could expect, oil and shipping dominate Norwegian interests, and Acergy, a notable company that trades on the NASDAQ specializes in “seabed to surface” engineering for offshore oil. Investors worldwide routinely trade about a million shares in each of these companies daily.
OTC and ADR
But most of the 200 plus stocks that trade on OSE are not listed on the NYSE or NASDAQ. If you want to get in on any of these you will have to look to “Over the Counter” (OTC) trading. For example, Telenor is the main phone company in Norway and the second largest company on the Oslo Børs. American investors can purchase Telenor under the ticker TELNY. If you look up Telenor on Google Finance you will see the acronym “ADR” in the description of TELNY indicating that the shares are represented by “American Depository Receipts” issued by a US depository bank. An ADR is in essence a proxy that is usually traded without ever actually obtaining the shares it represents. In contrast to an ADR, it is also possible to buy and sell foreign shares “directly” in the OTC market. Somewhat confusingly, Telenor also appears in a “non-ADR” version as TELNF. Most of the Norwegian stocks traded OTC are not ADRs but actual shares (see the table listing OSE stocks and their OTC tickers).
The reason many foreign stocks are absent from the NYSE and the NASDAQ is because of the understandable fear that dubious stocks may sneak into American exchanges. The Securities and Exchange Commission has strict reporting requirements to avoid the listing of fly-by-night companies. Unfortunately, SEC requirements are so cumbersome that many foreign companies – even very solid ones – choose to allow their shares to remain unlisted in the US. But the OTC system allows savvy investors to “waive” the perceived protections offered by the SEC and invest in securities that they have investigated by their own means. Americans may none the less find it difficult to investigate Norwegian companies through familiar channels such as E*trade. For those with Norwegian language skills, the OSE website (oslobors.no) can help to fill in the gaps. Another useful source of information on OTC traded shares is the “Pink Sheets” website. And, of course, in this day and age virtually all companies publish financial data on their web sites.
It would be nice to mention an OSE tracking fund available in the US. Just as Americans buy Vanguard funds that track the S&P500, Norwegian citizens routinely invest in funds that trace the OSEBX. A fund like this would be a “no brainer” for Americans that believe in the Norwegian economy as a whole. But knowledgeable sources in Norway questioned on this point were not aware of a fund for Americans. Perhaps some of our readers know different? Or perhaps among the myriad of financial instruments conceived here in the US, an OSE fund is still waiting to be born!
Graph and table compiled by author from information published on oslobors.no, finance.google.com, etrade.com and pinksheets.com
This article was also published in the June 20, 2008 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. For more information about the Norwegian American Weekly or to subscribe, call us toll free (800) 305-0217 or email email@example.com.