Tags: Ross | Cyprus | bonds | banks

Wilbur Ross: Long-Term Debt Is a ‘Huge Risk’

Friday, 22 Mar 2013 12:22 PM

By Glenn J. Kalinoski and Dan Weil

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Investors would do well to steer clear of long-term bonds while the Federal Reserve continues to execute its quantitative easing, says private-equity titan Wilbur Ross.

His thinking is that yields can’t stay near historic lows forever.

"Where I'd be very wary is bonds,” Ross tells CNBC. “If the 10-year Treasury reverts back just to its average yield from 2000-2010, you know how much the price will go down?" The answer: 23 percent. “That's a huge risk," says Ross, chairman and CEO of WL Ross and Co.

The 10-year Treasury yield stood at 1.92 percent late Friday afternoon.

“We’ve been advising friends it’s not worth getting a few extra basis points to take that kind of downside risk for a year or two while [Federal Reserve Chairman Ben] Bernanke keeps this quantitative easing going,” Ross says.

Editor's Note: Unthinkable Haunts Investors: Evidence for Imminent 90% Stock Market Drop.

“We’re recommending people not be in long-term debt of any kind. Instead, we’re urging our companies to borrow as much long-term fixed money as they can.”

Ross isn't the only noteworthy investor to have a dismal view of U.S. Treasury bonds.

Warren Buffett, the third-richest person in the world, agrees that long-term U.S. government bonds aren't the place to be. “The dumbest investment you know, in my view, is a long-term government bond,” he told CNBC earlier this month.

But when it comes to U.S. stocks, which hit record highs last week as measured by the Dow Jones Industrial Average, Ross isn’t as concerned.

"The economy is more likely to accelerate in 2014 than not. So I don't things are grotesquely overvalued in terms of equities."

In addition, he notes that while signs show the housing sector is picking up, “we have a long way to go. But I think the biggest problems are getting out of the way.”

Elsewhere, Ross says that the financial crisis in Cyprus is nothing to be worried about -- for now. “The numbers just aren't big enough for anybody other than a few Russian oligarchs to worry about.”

Ross, who was part of the consortium that turned around the Bank of Ireland, says he wouldn’t be doing the same thing in Cyprus.

“I don’t think we’ll do anything with Cyprus,” he explains.

“Cyprus is not a place we would go into because the banking system is quite artificial with all the money out of Russia. Total bank assets are almost nine times as big as the entire [gross domestic product] of the country. That just tells you right off the bat how artificial it is. All that extra cash is what caused the trouble.”

With that extra cash, “they bought a lot of Greek debt,” he notes. “When Greece got into trouble they doubled down. They bet wrong. That’s what led to this crisis.”

He describes the possibility that a government might renege on the 100,000-euro ($129,880) guaranteed deposit scheme as “a little bit scary.”

“But as far as I can see it has not led to panic at the depositors in any of the peripheral countries.”

While the European risk last year was primarily economic, “to the degree there's a European risk this year, I think it's more political,” Ross notes. He warns that investors here need to pay attention to the boiling politics of Europe, including September elections in Germany.

Editor's Note: Unthinkable Haunts Investors: Evidence for Imminent 90% Stock Market Drop.

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