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Billionaire Investor Barry Sternlicht Says He Has Long-Term Concerns About the U.S. Economy

David Orrell | CNBC
  • "We have to get off of this sugar cane and Fluffernutter economy and get to the meat-and-the potatoes economy," Barry Sternlicht told CNBC.
  • The chairman and CEO of Starwood Capital Group said he is worried about labor and supply shortages, as well as government policy.
  • He said his bullishness on the stock market has faded.

Global investor Barry Sternlicht told CNBC on Thursday he has some long-term concerns about the U.S. economy, saying there are risks beyond the immediate boom from the Covid recovery.

In a wide-ranging interview on "Squawk Box," the billionaire businessman worried about numerous shortages in the economy and criticized the Federal Reserve's highly accommodative monetary policy policy and legislative proposals in Washington.

"I do think the Fed, interest rates, are being suppressed by the government. .... We have to get off of this sugar-cane and Fluffernutter economy and get to the meat-and-the-potatoes economy," Sternlicht said. "We have to get back to a sustainable economy and people coming back to work."

The chairman and CEO of Starwood Capital Group pointed to recent Labor Department data that showed a record number of job openings in March. "Something is wrong," he said.

Sternlicht, whose firm operates hotels as part of its broader portfolio, said hiring challenges for businesses are largely the result of enhanced unemployment benefits that were included in a federal coronavirus relief package.

However, economists say the reason people may still be hesitant to return to work is due to many factors, including Covid concerns and a lack of reliable child care.

The supply-chain challenges that have hit numerous industries including poultry and lumber are worrisome, Sternlicht said, and so are the delays at cargo ports.

"You're seeing unbelievable shortages in the U.S. economy from chicken wings to sheet rock to curtain wall to couches that everyone is ordering on Pottery Barn and West Elm that they can't get for six months because they're all coming from China," Sternlicht said. "So what we did was write a giant stimulus package and now we're shopping and buying everything from offshore. We're not doing anything to fix long-term issues in the U.S. economy."

Sternlicht noted that some of the shortages will resolve over time as the immediate demand surge from the economic reopening wears off, calling it a "bottleneck."

"I will probably be able to get the curtain wall I need for my hotel that we're building in Nashville. Some day," he said. "But it has fundamentally changed the economy because of the amount of stimulus."

As the Biden administration proposes a set of legislative packages carrying collective price tags in the trillions, Sternlicht said: "We need precise, laser-like legislation  to help the industries in need and to promote the business investments we want."

The housing market is another area of concern, Sternlicht said. Home sales heated up last year, driven in part by low mortgage rates and workers beginning to have greater geographic flexibility.

"The housing market is in an unsustainable, euphoric increase in prices," Sternlicht said.

Sternlicht said the broad economic and political landscape has changed his outlook on the stock market. He noted that during the March 2020 coronavirus-driven plunge, he correctly predicted a swift recovery in equities.

"I was wildly bullish. ... I thought we would get through this and the markets would rally, and they did. I'm probably equally negative on the situation almost today. Although the one thing holding stocks up is just the sheer weight of all the money printed around the world and very little places to put it."

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