By Sveinung Sleire
Norges Bank has been taken aback by the weakness of the currency, which plunged to record lows against the euro last month despite four rate hikes since September 2018. While puzzled, the central bank has cited external factors such as trade turmoil, slower global growth and weak crude prices. It has also pointed to Norway’s long-term transition to a less oil-dependent economy.
Governor Oystein Olsen went a step further on Monday when he said an intensifying political debate around the future of the country’s oil industry and calls by some opposition politicians to tighten terms for explorers are factors that could weigh on the krone.
“We perceive some voices in the currency market among market participants, who confirm that there is some focus on what’s happening in politics and in general in relation to the prospects for the Norwegian oil industry,” he said in an interview after a speech at the bank on Monday. “It’s a topic that may have gotten increased attention.”
Norway is western Europe’s biggest oil and gas producer, but the country’s relationship with oil is growing increasingly complicated as concerns over climate change grow. The country’s biggest political parties are still supportive of the industry, but are being challenged by the smaller parties and even their own youth groups. Norway-based oil consultant firm Rystad Energy AS earlier this year said the Nordic country could no longer be counted as the most stable political regime for oil production.
Olsen himself warned earlier this year against winding down the country’s oil industry prematurely.
Norway’s oil production is due to surge in coming years thanks to a new, rare giant project in the North Sea and investments are rising after they dropped following a crude price collapse in 2014. Yet spending will remain far below the historic peak and the Norwegian economy’s dependence on oil has already been reduced, Olsen said. In that sense, the krone’s reaction can be considered a “small paradox,” he said.
“The transition is underway and it will keep going,” Olsen said.