Sovereign wealth funds (SWFs) are among the most innovative and least-studied economic policy tools governments have at their disposal. At its essence, the question of why a country creates a SWF is about whether a government should save or spend. Despite the importance of SWFs to governments and global markets, the economic and noneconomic factors influencing a country’s decision to create a SWF have not been sufficiently investigated. Moreover, studies purporting to answer why countries create SWFs or which types of countries create certain types of SWFs have been based on the theoretical benefits of SWFs or the stated mandates of SWFs; not observed macroeconomic data. I argue that these studies have obfuscated the changing dynamics of the population of countries creating SWFs and reified conventional wisdom that is no longer based on evidence.
In this thesis, I find that countries with a high dependence on resource exports and countries enjoying high levels of GDP growth are more likely to create SWFs. My findings put into question the conventional wisdom that countries with current account surpluses and higher levels of international reserves create SWFs. In addition, I also statistically test noneconomic reasons for SWF creation and find that resource-dependent countries may create SWFs to emulate other resource-dependent countries. My empirical findings also indicate that countries use SWFs as a signal of good economic governance in an attempt to attract foreign direct investment. However, these noneconomic reasons are found to be less statistically influential than the economic determinants of SWF creation. In the latter half of this thesis, I employ the findings from my statistical analysis to create a new, statistically-based typology of SWF-creating countries and to assess the appropriateness of countries creating SWFs based on their respective macroeconomics. Finally, I conduct a three-country qualitative analysis of three African nations, of which two created SWFs, and find that the international financial institutions were particularly influential in the decisions of these countries to create their SWFs.