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Carlyle’s David Rubenstein Is Terrified by the Dollar

Jan 17, 2017

The strong dollar might end up knocking out the global economy in 2017.

At least that's what David Rubenstein, head of giant private equity firm Carlyle Group (cg) , is worried about.

On Tuesday, speaking on a panel at the World Economic Forum, Rubenstein called the U.S. dollar the greatest risk to the global economy in 2017. He said it has the potential to derail the Federal Reserve, which is trying to raise interest rates, and could throw Mexico and other countries into a financial crisis.

"It would be ironic if Mexico had to be bailed out by the next U.S. administration," said Rubenstein. Wall Street Journal editor Gerald Baker, who was moderating the panel, quipped not to worry - President-elect Donald Trump would get the Mexicans to pay for it.

"It's not just Mexico," said Rubenstein. "The biggest blow-ups in emerging markets have happened when the dollar has been particularly strong."

The greenback has risen 35% against the Mexican peso in the last six months, due to the tough talk by Trump on trade. But it's far from the only emerging-market currency to have suffered. The dollar has also risen 24% against the Turkish lira. Egypt, which asked the International Monetary Fund for a $12 billion bailout in November, has seen its currency lose more than half its value against the dollar in the same time.

Rubenstein said the market is overwhelmingly expecting the Fed to raise interest rates a number of times in 2017. But Rubenstein said if that happens the world economy could be in big trouble. He said a number of foreign companies, particularly in Mexico, have borrowed money in U.S. dollars. The problem is that higher interest rates will likely push up the value of the dollar higher. That would make it harder and harder for those foreign companies to pay back their debt with their weaker currencies. The result, says Rubenstein, could be a financial crisis.

At the same time, Rubenstein said Trump's plans to cut taxes and spend money on infrastructure could make matters worse (a point already made by a number of officials at the Federal Reserve). He said that while Trump's proposals could add as much as $2 trillion to the federal budget deficit, they could also boost the U.S. economy in the short-term at a time when it is already relatively strong. He said that would add more fuel to push the dollar higher.

Another panel member Li Daokui, a professor at China's Tsinghua University, also warned that a strong dollar could cause problems for China and others, potentially slowing the U.S. economy in the process. "I fully understand the sensibilities of people in Michigan and elsewhere in the U.S.," said Li. "But the President-elect needs to tell them that they have to worry about how U.S. policies will impact the world as well."

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