The fund is gradually increasing real estate investments to as much as 5 percent of its assets through a corresponding decrease in its bond holdings. The move spreads the fund’s risk across more markets and can also protect against inflation as rents are often linked to price indices.
The first investments
Real estate investments were initially in well-developed European markets and properties such as offices and retail premises. From 1 January 2013, the mandate to invest in real estate was broadened to include countries outside of Europe. In the initial phase the fund seeked to invest with partners that have good knowledge of specific markets.
The fund announced in 2010 an agreement to acquire 25 percent of The Crown Estate's Regent Street in London and conducted fund's first property purchase in April 2011. This was followed by the purchase of a 50 percent stake in seven properties in and around Paris from AXA Group. In 2012, the fund bought its first property in Switzerland, followed by the first investment in Germany. It also invested in its first shopping centre and entered into the market for logistics properties through an agreement to invest in logistics facilities in 11 European countries. The fund's first real estate investments in the United States was conducted in 2013, in New York, Washington and Boston.
Our goal is to build a global, but concentrated, real estate portfolio, and expect to invest 1 percent of the fund in real estate in each of the next few years. The strategy is to invest in a limited number of major cities in key markets. In the US, we have picked four cities to invest in New York, Washington DC, Boston and San Francisco. In Europe, we will continue to invest in London and Paris, while also considering opportunities in a limited number of other cities. At the same time, we will continue to invest in logistics properties in both Europe and the US. We will also consider investing in cities outside Europe and the US in the coming years, primarily in Asia.
Before we invest in a property, we conduct a thorough due diligence of the parties involved in the transaction and the property itself, spanning financial, legal, tax, structural, operational, technical and insurance matters. Environmental factors are also part of this review, and measures to improve energy and water efficiency and waste management are included in the ongoing dialogue the fund has with its partners. We often use external experts to identify any risks from materials that could harm the environment or health and so affect the financial value of the property over time.
We attach importance to our real estate investments complying with international standards for responsible investment and reporting. We have been a member of the Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark (GRESB) – since 2011, using this framework to promote better reporting on sustainability in the real estate sector and compare our work on responsible real estate investment with other players. We require that our partners submit information on the management of our properties to GRESB on an annual basis, and we use this information systematically when working with our partners so that we can gradually improve the properties’ quality, efficiency and environmental erformance.
The fund’s real estate investments are generally made through Norges Bank subsidiaries to limit liability to a subsidiary’s capital. This is standard market practice and supports the bank’s goal of safeguarding the fund’s assets through prudent risk management. Norges Bank in May 2011 set up the subsidiary NBIM S.à r.l. in Luxembourg. Many of the fund’s real estate investments in mainland Europe will be channelled through the subsidiary, which will hold stakes in entities investing directly or indirectly in properties. The subsidiary’s responsibilities also include accounting, bookkeeping and transferring of rental income to Norges Bank.