In This Review

Sovereign Wealth Funds: Threat or Salvation?
Sovereign Wealth Funds: Threat or Salvation?
By Edwin Truman
Peterson Institute for International Economics, 2010, 192 pp

Sovereign wealth funds -- investment portfolios owned by governments -- exceeded $5.9 trillion in value in mid-2009. Of this, $3 trillion was invested outside the countries of ownership. The largest fund is the Japanese government's $1.3 trillion pension fund, a quarter of which is invested abroad, and the second-largest fund belongs to Abu Dhabi. Americans may be surprised to learn that some sovereign wealth funds are owned by U.S. state governments, the largest being California's public employee retirement system, followed by Alaska's permanent fund. In a period in which many financial institutions have been trying to replenish their capital, these patient investors are particularly welcome. But government ownership also raises concerns about the use of these large investments to pursue political objectives or manipulate financial markets. In this book, Truman, a former long-serving official of the U.S. Federal Reserve, usefully arrays what facts are known about sovereign wealth funds (some funds are much more secretive than others), analyzes the legitimate concerns about them, and evaluates them according to a scorecard of desirable behavior. Many funds have now subscribed to the IMF-sponsored Santiago Principles, a code of good behavior proposed in late 2008. Truman urges that these guidelines be made universal, stronger, and more formal and be better enforced.