Contrarian billionaire real-estate investor Sam Zell has warned that the US economy is ‘in the ninth inning,’ but predicts ‘milder’ downturn ahead. In a recent story with the WSJ, the chairman of Equity Group Investments and of apartment landlord Equity Residential warned that it isn’t immune to problems in the world economy. Those problems include low oil prices, falling import demand from emerging economies, volatile financial markets, deflation, possible negative interest rates and currency exchange rate fluctuations, he stated. “I’m not being pessimistic, I’m being realistic,” Zell stated earlier this year at a real-estate conference in New York.
Mr. Zell also sees the U.S. as deeply “polarized,” which brought upon the popularity of Donald Trump. Zell sees Mr. Trump as an “enormous wild card” whose leadership is “full of risk.” All his campaign has said is ‘it’s going to be great’ and to ‘trust me,’ stated Mr. Zell.
The U.S. economy is now “in the ninth inning,” Zell also said. For real-estate investors, commercial property values have been on a mostly uninterrupted upward march since 2009, according to the WSJ. “Over the past year, concerns over when and how much the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates have taken a toll on real-estate investment trust prices.”
Mr. Zell also noted that Nigeria slashed its 2016 economic growth projection to 3.2% from 6.3% in 2015. “For an emerging market like that, it’s a disaster, and that’s happening all over the world,” he said. “So, I just don’t think the U.S. can avoid it.”
He also believes that the Fed has deferred reality for much longer than normal. Mr. Zell said in an interview with CNBC on May 24, 2016, that “the Federal Reserve should have raised interest rates two years ago.” The Fed has deferred reality for so long that it now has no other option than to raise rates for the sake of its credibility, according to Zell. He also expressed that with prolonged low interest rates in the United States, the business community is desensitized to the cost of capital, leading to distorted markets.
Sam Zell is known for his success for capitalizing on distressed situations and bargain-priced assets. Mr. Zell constructed a $5 billion real estate empire by purchasing deep-value real estate in down markets in the 1960s, and followed through on this strategy over the next forty years. Equity Commonwealth returned 6 percent to its investors in 2015, ranking fourth among 21 companies in the NAREIT Office Index, which returned an average 0.3 percent, according to the proxy. On January 26, Zell received restricted stock worth about $2 million on that date. A year ago, he received $2.6 million in stock, according to the proxy.