Soros: 'bleak outlook for UK'
George Soros, the hedge-fund billionaire who made a fortune from speculating on sterling's weakness in the early 1990s, has warned that the outlook for the UK economy is "bleak." Click here for a transcript of the interview
In an interview with me this morning, he warned that growth prospects for the UK and US were poor -- because households and governments in both countries had borrowed far too much and would have to repay their debts in coming years.
Soros said that the prospects for the UK were worse than the US, because the British government is approaching the limits of what it can comfortably borrow from investors to finance public spending.
He added - which will not come as a surprise to readers of this column - that the sources of the UK's financial weakness were excessive borrowing by individuals for house purchases and a financial sector that had also borrowed and lent too much.
Mr Soros - who was one of the few financiers to predict the 2008 financial crash - says that the UK and the US face many years of low growth.
Citing Japan's fifteen years of recession that started in the early 1990s, he said that the return of normal economic conditions in the US and UK was happening perhaps twice as fast as in Japan - which meant, he said, that anaemic growth may persist in America for up to seven years or so.
He said that the British government would have to tighten spending within the next year.
However he also warned that cutting public spending too soon could tip the UK back into recession.
In that sense he probably can't be seen as backing either the "cut-early" Tories or the "delay-cutting" Labour Party.
He also made a number of other fascinating observations:
1) he said China had a serious problem of incipient inflation and should allow its currency to appreciate;
2) while welcoming President Obama's proposal to limit the size of banks and limit their speculative activities, he said that the reforms did not go far enough;
3) he would insist that banks that engage in so-called proprietary trading - or speculating in financial markets for their own account - should hold as much capital as typical hedge funds, which would mean that the likes of Goldman Sachs would have to massively increase the capital they hold as a buffer against potential losses;
4) like President Sarkozy yesterday, he talked about the need for a new "Bretton Woods" - or a revised system of controls on exchange rates and capital flows that would phase out the dangerous imbalance between the excessive saving and reserves of China and Asia and the huge indebtedness of much of the west.