The Norwegian economy is dependent largely on the fortunes of its important petroleum industry. Thus, it experienced a decline in the late 1980s as oil prices fell, but by the late 1990s it had rebounded strongly, benefiting from increased production and higher prices. In an effort to reduce economic downturns caused by drops in oil prices, the government in 1990 established the Government Petroleum Fund (renamed the Government Pension Fund Global in 2006), into which budget surpluses were deposited for investment overseas. Norway reversed its negative balance of payments, and the growth of its gross national product (GNP)—which had slowed during the 1980s—accelerated. By the late 1990s Norway’s per capita GNP was the highest in Scandinavia and among the highest in the world. The Norwegian economy remained robust into the early 21st century, and Norway fared much better than many other industrialized countries during the international financial and economic crisis that began in 2008. Nevertheless, foreign demand for non-petroleum-related Norwegian products weakened during that period, and, though not a participant in the single European currency, Norway was not immune to the pressures of the euro-zone debt crisis.
About one-fourth of Norway’s commodity imports are food and consumer goods (including motor vehicles); the rest consists of raw materials, fuels, and capital goods. The rate of reinvestment has been high in Norway for a number of years. This is reflected in the relatively steady employment in the building and construction industry. Rapid growth, however, has been registered in commercial and service occupations, as is the case in most countries with a high standard of living.
Fewer than 1 percent of the private businesses and industrial companies in Norway have more than 100 employees. Nonetheless, they account for more than two-fifths of the private industrial labour force. The smaller companies are usually family-owned, whereas most of the larger ones are joint-stock companies. Only a few larger concerns are state-owned, most notably Statoil, the state-owned petroleum industry, as well as the railways and the postal service. The state also has large ownership stakes in hydropower stations and electricity plants.