Norwegian Sovereign Wealth Fund to Sue Volkswagen Over Emissions Scandal

Norway, sovereign wealth fund, Volkswagen, emissions, corporate governance, leon kaye, institutional investors, investing
NBIM headquarters in Oslo.

Eight months after the Volkswagen emissions scandal rocked Germany’s iconic automaker, the repercussions still refuse to go away. In addition to the class-action lawsuits underway here in the U.S. and promised buy-back program that could involve up to 500,000 cars, institutional investors also yanked Volkswagen’s chain over what they say are the company’s diminished brand reputation and financial performance.

Many shareholders are upset with what they call a lax corporate governance structure that allowed the rigging of emissions tests to fester until September 2015. Now, one European sovereign wealth fund will sue Volkswagen over what it says are financial losses due to the auto manufacturer’s recent struggles in the global securities markets.

Norges Bank Investment Management (NBIM), which manages Norway’s 26-year-old Government Pension Fund Global, told the Financial Times this week that it will join a forthcoming class-action lawsuit in Germany.

The $851 billion fund, which is one of Norway’s funds charged with securing the country’s social welfare system long after its oil reserves run dry, says its losses in the wake of the emissions scandal have run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. The fund also expressed doubt over Volkswagen’s claims that the emissions fiasco was the result of a few “rogue engineers.”

As Petter Johnsen, the fund’s chief investment officer, told FT: “Volkswagen management should have known about the manipulative engine-management devices.”

According to Bloomberg, NBIM owns at least 1.6 percent of Volkswagen, so it has a huge stake in seeing the company’s performance improve — or recouping its losses if the company never recovers.

Meanwhile, in order to account for the financial losses that have totaled as much as $18 billion resulting from the emissions scandal, Volkswagen reduced its dividends to shareholders by 97 percent — and may even eliminate such payouts to shareholders this year.

Activist investors, such as TCI Fund Management, complained that Volkswagen’s executives are still tone-deaf even after the emissions crisis, as the automaker’s executives allegedly still paid themselves far too handsomely when those figures are juxtaposed against the company’s recent financial performance.

Watch for NBIM to make the case in Germany that Volkswagen’s actions also hurt the automobile industry at large. In a quarterly report issued last year, NBIM claimed that its holdings in consumer goods stocks led to a loss of 5.8 percent, largely due to Volkswagen’s admissions in rigging auto emissions tests worldwide.

And while companies across several sectors offset some of the Norwegian fund’s recent losses, Volkswagen joined its competitor Daimler AG, along with the mining company Glencore, as contributing to a difficult ending for NBIM in 2015. Those links will be challenging for Volkswagen to explain away in the court of law.

Image credits: Mahlum/WikiCommons

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Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010. He has lived across the U.S., as well as in South Korea, Abu Dhabi and Uruguay. Some of Leon's work can also be found in The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. You can follow him on Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost).

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