May 30, 2024

Billionaire Barry Sternlicht’s solution to inflation: ‘Tell Congress to stop spending money like drunken sailors’

Barry Sternlicht, CEO of Starwood Capital Group, on an episode of Bloomberg Wealth With David Rubenstein, in New York, June 28, 2023. Victor J. Blue—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell has anguished over the rise of inflation for more than two years now. And despite having some success in taming consumer price increases that reached a four-decade high above 9% in June 2022, the Fed chair reiterated in congressional testimony this week that continued progress “is not assured.”

But don’t worry: Barry Sternlicht, the outspoken billionaire cofounder and CEO of real-estate giant Starwood Capital, has a solution to Powell’s biggest problem.

“What he really needs to do is walk across the street and tell Congress to stop spending money like drunken sailors,” Sternlicht said in a new interview on the globally syndicated TV show In Depth With Graham Bensinger.

While the Fed has been attempting to clamp down on inflation with interest rate hikes, Sternlicht—in his typical, somewhat acerbic style—noted Congress and the Biden administration have made that task a challenge by dramatically increasing federal spending and the national deficit, at least compared with the pre-COVID era. 

“You have one part of the government with a foot on the brake—the Federal Reserve and Powell—and then you have the other part of the government—the legislature—spending as much money as they can,” he said.

Sternlicht, who started his career as a Wall Street trader and now boasts a net worth of $3.8 billion, has long argued the Fed’s main method for dealing with inflation—raising interest rates—just doesn’t work. 

Last March, the billionaire CEO said central banks’ interest rate hikes were like “using a steamroller to get the price of milk down two cents” or to “kill a small fly.” Just a few months after that, Sternlicht warned the real estate industry, particularly office real estate, was in the middle of a “Category 5 hurricane” owing to the Fed’s policy. And in October 2022, he even told Fortune that Jerome Powell and his “merry band of lunatics” were destroying the economy and risking “social unrest.”

Now, though, with the economy proving its resilience despite higher rates, Sternlicht seems to have shifted his view. Instead of destroying the economy, the Fed’s rate hikes haven’t done enough, he says.

“Higher interest rates are not slowing the economy. People think they are, but they’re not,” Sternlicht told Bensinger. “Because if you look at the jobs market, it’s health care, government, and education [that] are adding tons of jobs, and they don’t get impacted by interest rates.”

Sternlicht argued interest hikes are an “arcane” and inappropriate method to fight inflation. But instead of warning the U.S. economy is being destroyed by these rate hikes—he’s previously argued it’s “braking hard,” called rate hikes “suicide,” and the list goes on—Sternlicht now seems to believe Powell’s tools are just devastating key segments of the economy, including the one he operates in.

When it comes to real estate, Sternlicht argued we’re going through a once-in-a-lifetime crisis. “I’ve been through five or six crises. This one feels the worst,” he said, adding that “usually we screw up the global economy, the real estate industry … This time we didn’t. We were just collateral damage.”

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