This paper first describes the institutional framework for corporate governance in Norway, concluding that its civil law tradition of Roman origin provides a relatively high protection of shareholder rights. Using a data set which is exceptionally rich and accurate by international standards, we next quantify a wide range of ownership structure characteristics for all firms listed on the Oslo Stock Exchange (OSE) over the period 1989-1997. We find that on average, the median owner holds a negligible fraction of a firm's equity, the largest owner holds 29\%, the four largest constitute a majority, and financial firms have considerably less concentrated ownership than other firms. International investors, who hold the largest fraction of OSE market cap, are underrepresented among the large owners of voting stock and heavily overrepresented in non-voting stock. Large owners of firms with dual-class shares hold more voting rights than cash flow rights, but still own non-voting equity, possibly due to the legal regime for corporate charter amendments or to reduce potential moral hazard costs faced by minority stockholders. We conclude that the ownership structure of Norwegian firms is fundamentally different from what we find elsewhere in Europe. We speculate that a long social-democratic tradition and strong legal protection of stockholders may partly explain why the personal ownership is so low, why the largest stake is so small, and why the next-to-largest stakes are so big. For Norwegian firms, a key corporate governance issue is whether the low power of the largest owner produces a system of strong managers and weak owners or whether a flat power structure of ownership facilitates cooperative monitoring by owners who are individually weak, but collectively strong.
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