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Billionaire and private equity legend David Rubenstein says don’t worry about inflation, the economy’s just fine

February 8, 2022, 8:11 PM UTC

A lot of billionaires and business leaders are sounding the alarm about inflation, the stock market’s swoon in January, and the economy in general.

David Rubenstein isn’t one of them.

The private equity billionaire and Carlyle Group cofounder says the economy will be just fine. He took to the airwaves on Tuesday to assure the American public that inflation talk is overblown and that fears of an imminent recession, propelled by COVID-19, are misguided. He also dismissed fears of how bad it’s getting in the stock market.

“I don’t see any big, gigantic market correction of the type that’s going to push us into a recession. I don’t see that at all,” Rubenstein said on CNBC. “I think the market correction will be modest, relative to what we’ve seen in the past when you have a gigantic correction.”

Rubenstein’s Carlyle Group, one of the biggest private equity firms in the world, manages $301 billion globally. He’s a major philanthropist, having donated millions to institutions such as Harvard and PBS. And he has had a front-row seat to historic inflation, serving as a top adviser to President Jimmy Carter, whose presidency was crippled by the Great Inflation of the 1970s.

This is not the same situation the U.S. faced during the stagflation crisis of the 1970s, said Rubenstein. “When I was in government, we had a different situation,” he said, referencing his stint as Carter’s deputy assistant for domestic policy. “Inflation was in double digits, Fed funds rate went up to 20%,” he said. “We’re not looking at anything like that.”

Still, tech stocks started the year with a shocking plunge, propelling the S&P into correction territory in January just as the Federal Reserve signaled its intention to hike interest rates at a hawkish clip. Inflation is at a 39-year high, as consumer prices jumped 7% in 2021.

The Fed also warned that it’s time to retire the word “transitory” for inflation, meaning prices could be rising uncomfortably for longer than expected. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said during a congressional hearing in December that “factors pushing inflation upward will linger well into next year.” 

Economists polled by Bloomberg expect a 7.3% rise in inflation for January. 

Rubenstein bucked economists’ predictions of more trouble ahead. Increases in the consumer price index are temporary, he said, and he even went so far as to say inflation would dip back to 4% or 5% this year.

The Fed, he said, will probably raise rates by 25 basis points in March, but it won’t raise them in every subsequent meeting. 

This isn’t the first time during the pandemic Rubenstein has sung such a positive tune, either. In November 2021, he told CNBC that comparisons to 1970s-style inflation were incorrect. The structure of the economy is different today than it was 50 years ago, he said, and more resilient to threats of inflation. Industry is more diverse, unions aren’t as dominant, and there’s decreased reliance on foreign sources of oil. 

Inflation would run above 2%, the Federal Reserve’s target, “for a while,” Rubenstein said, but would come down by the spring. 

The market, he said, doesn’t seem “unduly concerned” about inflation.

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