Billionaire hedge fund manager Stan Druckenmiller unleashed some uncomfortable fact bombs on an unsuspecting CNBC audience yesterday in a wide-ranging discussion touching on everything from Trump's re-election (we thinks Trump will lose), to the China trade war (killing 'animal spirits'), to government intervention in minumum wage and charter schools.
Earlier this week, Druckenmiller said he believed President Donald Trump will lose his reelection bid thanks to discontent in key swing states. He said the Republican president got lucky in 2016 and could lose if Democrats run a more centrist candidate.
“I personally think it’s going to depend on the Democratic candidate,... he'll win against Comrade Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, but he drew an inside straight: He won seven out of seven states by less than half a percent,” Druckenmiller said.
“If you go county by county in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, he is in deep, deep, deep trouble. And that was with the economy growing at 3%.”
The problem, he said, would be if a “crazy” Democrat beats him.
And, in perhaps his most notable comment, Druckenmiller warned of just that - the effect of a Bernie Sanders presidency on markets.
“If Bernie Sanders became president, I think stock prices should be 30% to 40% lower than they are now,” he said Friday on CNBC’sSquawk Box.
“The good news is we’d all be much more equal because everybody would be poorer but the rich would have lost a lot more wealth than the poor would have,” he joked.
Druckenmiller's views coincide with many other hedge fund managers feel that a far-left candidate and their policies could increase regulation and taxes, deflating stock prices. The Vermont senator outlined a plan in a New York Times op-ed earlier this year that would prevent companies from repurchasing their stock unless they pay workers at least $15 an hour and other benefits.
But Druckenmiller had plenty more to say...
On Trump Tweets and the US-China Trade War
JOE KERNEN: I've talked to you in recent days and you had an interview that got a lot of play at The Economics Club and so we'll start by saying: so, a thousand points today -- I'm sorry 100 points today would bring us up almost a thousand for the week. So, we've had a snap back. And I asked you, you sold everything and you said, you know these headlines don't really necessarily cover the nuances of what you've done in the last couple of weeks. Right? I mean they said you've sold everything and got in Treasuries. Was that -- that's not exactly what you did, is it?
STANLEY DRUCKENMILLER: No, but I did do a lot. So I was over 90% invested. Fat and happy. Fed look like they were going in the right direction. And the Sunday of the Trump Tweet-- came in Monday the market was only down a half or 1% and decided to go to net flat.
JOE KERNEN: That was the first China -- that was the China –
STANLEY DRUCKENMILLER: The China Tweet.
JOE KERNEN: Not the Mexico Tweet.
STANLEY DRUCKENMILLER: The China Tweet. I just kind of wanted to take a deep breath and process it. Net flat doesn't mean I sold everything. I kept all my long investments and used other vehicles again -- the other thing I did was I bought a bunch of Treasuries just because I wanted -- and by the way it took me three days, I wish I had done it all the first day but didn't have the courage or the gumption or whatever. And yeah that's--that's what I did and pretty much stayed there until the Fed repivot, acceleration, whatever you want to call it, Tuesday morning. I’m nowhere near back to where I was but I’ve gotten a little more exposed during a week.
JOE KERNEN: But, you also point out and you say a lot of its luck so I mean it looked like you said ‘Wow I'm going to play—’ ‘I'm going to ride these Treasuries as they go up and the yields fall’ -- but that wasn't one of it you need to go somewhere and have more Treasuries and then all of a sudden that was serendipity and the Treasury market just took off after you did that too. Right. So, it looks like another—
STANLEY DRUCKENMILLER: Soros used to have this thing called the one-way bet. What's a one-way bet? That's when you—very-- have a lot of conviction that something might not move but if it moves it will only move in one direction. So, I bought the Treasury thinking-- for example the two year, I think it was like two thirty or something-- if I'm wrong, it goes to 240. And you can envision a scenario where you could make 150 or 200 basis points. So, I didn't necessarily think I was going to make money but it was a great risk reward. And you're right, now that it's down to 185 or wherever it is this morning, it's no longer one way bet. You could lose 60, 70. Still could probably make 150 so it's not like it's a bad bet it's just it's nowhere near what it was that particular day.
JOE KERNEN: So, you definitely sat up and took notice of what these tariffs might do to what you were pretty happy about and that is deregulation, tax reform, animal spirits for the Markets, all these things that did happen in the first couple of years of the Trump presidency. Do you think this is enough of a headwind to really reverse some of all that all those positive things to where you’re-- could we going to a recession? Could the market have a much bigger pullback than we've seen so far? Is that -- is that all in the horizon? You still don't know?
STANLEY DRUCKENMILLER: Joe, the answer is I don't know. But I'm managing my own money and I don't need to play every day. I'm not competing. And you said it perfectly. I think I called in right after my knee replacement the day after the election.
JOE KERNEN: You did.
STANLEY DRUCKENMILLER: And you guys were great. We had a discussion about how none of us understood with cutting taxes and deregulation why the market would go down because Trump had been elected. And I think we talked about animal spirits in that interview at the time and maybe the economy could grow at 3% under this guy. And I wish I had followed my own advice more in action but that's kind of what happened. And animal spirits is something you can't measure but confidence matters and you do wonder and “The Journal” had a great piece on this, I think Tuesday morning, you do wonder whether this is enough to kill animal spirits. And what do you mean by animal spirits? Well, for example, if you're a company and you're thinking about building a plant or doing capital spending, I mean, really? I mean aren't you going to wait now see how this thing is resolved, what's going on? But I don't know if you calculate the tariffs at least the one we've had just in and of themselves it doesn't look like it's that damaging but at the same time Ben Bernanke who's a great. great mind got a lot of IQ points on me. He thought subprime was contained. Because if you just do the math same thing the tariff thing doesn't look that damaging but if you take all the other effects and confidence and we've had a few more things down the road since then We had Huawei and 5G was going to be one of the great engines of not only U.S. but global growth. That's challenged now. We we've interrupted that supply chain. Supply chains all over the world have been sort of twisted around. People are wondering. Then we got Mexico that one came out of nowhere. So, there's a lot of uncertainty and I'd love to sit here and tell you I have a crystal ball but I just I don't know.
JOE KERNEN: You and Kevin Warsh had been watching the Fed and commenting on the Fed for a long time. It's—
STANLEY DRUCKENMILLER: Probably too much, yeah.
JOE KERNEN: I mean I have so many questions about this and I'm thinking we only have an hour. That's was what just ran through my head, listening to that. You know what I mean?
BECKY QUICK: Oh no, are we going to get through everything? Right.
JOE KERNEN: That’s what I thought. But, is the Fed still -- isn't there the law of diminishing returns for what they're able to do and we hit that yet I don't think looks like we haven't because they've we got a pause which bounced us in December and then we got something more recently where there might be a cut and it worked again. Is it going to always work just because it makes stocks more – more valuable?
STANLEY DRUCKENMILLER: No, one day I won't work. We proved in 2008 at some point you start pushing on us on a string. I'll say this: I don't understand the Fed's monetary framework at all. I grew up in an era with Volcker and Greenspan where monetary policy was primarily used for counter cyclical and when the market, excuse me, when the economy started running too hot after a period they would lean against it. And when it looked like things were softening and rolling over they would lean against that. Now we have decimal point inflation targets like it's Armageddon. If it's one point four three two instead of one point six five we're worried about inflation expectations five or ten years down the road. We have a two percent, two point zero, excuse me, inflation target that if we don't meet it it's Armageddon. And I have trouble with that whole -- the preciseness of it and the attention to it. As you know, Joe, we're in-- well you may not agree with me but I think we're in one of the biggest productivity inflection booms since the late 1800s. I am very confident that it's not being measured in real GDP. I'm also very confident I couldn't measure it so don't think I’m ever going to say -- but I know that we have all these free products out there that don't measure in GDP. Just a couple of examples somebody at MIT did a study and said the average American would pay eighteen thousand dollars a year to use the Google search engine. I know I'd pay more by the way. But here's -- here's just one little anecdote so in 2010 Americans took I think or globally took 300 billion pictures. Okay. This year we took two and a half trillion pictures. Okay. And the pictures this year on the phone in your pocket are better than the pictures you were taking with a Kodak camera eight years ago. And if you look at GDP accounting, all right, there is no accounting and value for those pictures. It's done nothing for GDP. In fact, you could argue since we used to go in and pay 50 cents per picture when we want to have them developed that added GDP and that's no longer in there so that it now literally subtracts from GDP. And I could give you a million other examples.
On Fed-Enabled Zombies and Fear of Recession
MICHAEL SANTOLI: If real growth is higher and you have these powerful long-term trends that are working in favor of that, how is the Fed, at two and a quarter to two and a half percent short-term interest rates, restraining that? In other words, you mentioned that the Fed is sort of repivoted because it seems to want to move toward where the market is at this point. What's the difference if the Fed were at 2% or one and a half or two and a two and a quarter to two and a half of it is right now?
STANLEY DRUCKENMILLER: Well because the gig economy is important but it's not the only economy. And economics works on the -- the economy works on the margin and on confidence and there's a lot of whole other areas, autos, old-line retail, global trade, big, that are deteriorating. And I actually think the Fed is right to be worried. I think we could be an inflection point. And I think they'd be crazy not to think so. I have no problem with what Chairman Powell has done. I think he inherited a very tough job. My biggest problem is what Yellen did. We had a booming economy fairly early cycle. I know I talked too much about the Fed. But at the time I said they should sneak one in every time they can until they get to some normal rate. I deeply, deeply believe in a capitalist system, you need a hurdle rate for investment. And if that rate is not up there somewhere around three or four, people are going to get crazy. Investors going to get crazy. Corporations are going to get crazy. Zombies are going to stay in business. And we have the opportunity to get there but that doesn't mean—
MICHAEL SANTOLI: Well, she did sneak one in December 2015. The markets kind of continued falling apart and then they were on hold for a year.
STANLEY DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah but we--we had that whole period in 2016 where, in my opinion, they could have gotten to three and a half or four. We'll never know. But they could have at least tried okay. but once confidence turns down, you know, you got to deal with the hand you're dealt. And Chairman Powell has now got a tough situation on his hand.
JOE KERNEN: You've evolved—
STANLEY DRUCKENMILLER: If he was at four, I'd say we should really be cutting and it would be great. But we're not at four.
BECKY QUICK: But does that mean you think that there are bubbles that have built up in the equity markets and other markets around if there are still zombie companies that are out there? Have we not shaken things out? Because we haven't been at three or four percent in a very long time.
STANLEY DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah, we have 10 trillion in corporate debt. We had six trillion. I think you and I did an interview for Delivering Alpha and it was like seven and a half trillion at the time. So, ironically by trying to achieve escape velocity we are in worse shape for a recession now than if things that slowed down when the period you're talking about Mike. Because there's been a lot of nonsense that's going on since then. Now, we have the global trade situation so, you just you don't know.
JOE KERNEN: You’re -- from what I'm hearing your views have evolved on on the Fed at this point. And I like what you're saying because it's a much more I think positive place that it puts us if it's productivity and innovation and technology that has us stuck in this low interest rate environment. And I agree with, you said you don't know if I agree with it, I've been saying: do you know what I’d pay for Google Maps? What would I pay for Google Maps? It has changed my – when am I going to get somewhere? Oh, I know when I have to leave. I know when I have to leave because it says like ‘Oh but there's traffic on that right.’ If I had that when I lived in L.A. I would I would have gone off the freeways, instead of being so-- I would have been able save seven years of my life with Google Maps.
STANLEY DRUCKENMILLER: By the way, this affects inflation, too—
JOE KERNEN: Yeah.
STANLEY DRUCKENMILLER: Quality adjustment.
JOE KERNEN: That's -- that's why rates are so low.
STANLEY DRUCKENMILLER: If this was measured properly we're probably already in deflation. By the way that's a good thing. We have good deflations and bad deflations. That's my objection to the 2% inflation target for all seasons. In the late 1800s in the in the industrial revolution we had three percent deflation and we are growing at eight percent real. So, I don't know where we are. I don't know whether we're at zero, whether we’re at one, or we’re at two. But I wish would stop worrying about it. Because we're in a productivity shock and this thing can't be measured. So, to sit there and count decimal points until at least A) the economic statistics catch up with what's happened, the preciseness I just think is but—
JOE KERNEN: This thing didn't exist 15 years ago, how much is this thing worth and what this is capable? I have the Encyclopedia Britannica everywhere I go. I mean, I mean, I don't even know what Andrew does on this thing.
STANLEY DRUCKENMILLER: I’m glad you mentioned the Encyclopedia Britannica because used to pay for that yeah and that added to GDP. So relative to now, that's a negative.
BECKY QUICK: Music. I listen to music.
STANLEY DRUCKENMILLER: Now, by the way, I’m not an idiot. I know that some of this shows up in advertising but a lot of that is coming out of TV and the whole value there's no way—
MICHAEL SANTOLI: Well, you're large your point is that we're not correct, if the Fed is not correct to fear the Japan scenario, in this instance.
STANLEY DRUCKENMILLER: No not at all.
MICHAEL SANTOLI: And it explains why Treasury yields are where they are probably.
STANLEY DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah and this whole obsession with a zero bound you know why we're at the zero bound because they put rates at the zero bound. We have never had deflation that I can find that started because we were near the zero bound we have deflation in every instant because there was an asset bubble. So, if I was trying to create deflation like I'm in this evil Darth Vader, like ‘Let's create deflation,’ I would have been done exactly what the Fed did from 2012 until a couple of years ago.
BECKY QUICK: I'm completely confused. Do you feel good about things right now we're bad?
STANLEY DRUCKENMILLER: I'm worried about the long term because you know and I don't like the victory laps about how great things are because we've used monetary policy to create a lot of build ups. By the way, I haven't even gone into what the government's done –
BECKY QUICK: Well, not just federal governments but state governments, too—
STANLEY DRUCKENMILLER: There’s no way we’d be looking at a trillion-dollar deficit at full employment and no one would mind if the government hadn’t been -- if the Fed hadn't been running policy to enable these guys. And then you have President Trump running around saying, ‘Well we need to keep interest rates low because the debt is high.’ Well, Jesus, why do you think the debt is high? And if you went to debt to explode more just keep interest rates low. I'm concerned about the long term, as a practitioner I don't my central case is we're not going into a recession. I'm worried about it and with the -- with the new view of the Fed, you know, I'm a liquidity guy. I'm not worried, I'm not that worried about markets right you.
On Capital Gains Taxes
STANLEY DRUCKENMILLER: I'm going to shock you. I kind of agree with Biden. I don't -- I don't really think capital gains promote investment as much as advertised out there. And it's hard for me to believe Larry Page and Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos would have said, ‘Oh my god the capital gains tax is going to be 35% I'm not going to -- I'm not going to try and found Amazon or Google.’ So, I don't have a problem with it.
But you probably want to – you wouldn't want to expand entitlements. You'd probably want to fix entitlements and debt with the money you raised—
STANLEY DRUCKENMILLER: Yes, Joe. I’m still a conservative. Don't worry. I don’t want to give you a heart attack over there. I would also not be giving, like, tax breaks for buying used corporate jets. I get the new jets. Okay. Somebody has to make them, you get employment, and all that. But used jets. So, there's all kinds of stuff in the tax system. The problem with the capital gains hike and I don't really know the answer is it might not raise that much revenue. And I'm not I'm not into something just because it's fair. But frankly, I think, I kind of agree with Biden. But I did want to say this: you know how we could solve inequality very easily of welt? Just do something disastrous to the economy. The stock market would go down 40% and inequality would drop substantially.
ROBERT FRANK: Well, that’s what worked -- it fell in 2008. That's exactly what happened
STANLEY DRUCKENMILLER: Of course.
ROBERT FRANK: We had the biggest decrease in inequality since the 1970s.
STANLEY DRUCKENMILLER: And that's the problem of this whole argument today. I mean, a little-known fact because the media doesn't want to put it out there is real wages have gone up under Trump. It's the first time it's happened I think in 40 years. And we all know African-American employment is up because President Trump tells us every 10 minutes. We all know other minorities. And so, the bottom is doing better. The problem is the top, the differential is getting even bigger. And even though it's one of the seven deadly sins one of the most powerful human emotions is envy. So, the narrative about inequality is correct but one piece of the story is left out, is that everybody is doing better. Unfortunately, the people that are really accelerating. So, I don't believe the way to solve this is let's just ruin everything and then everybody will be worse off for it.
ROBERT FRANK: Right, but the inverse of that which is what the conservatives say ‘Well, growth will solve everything.’ In fact, during high growth periods inequality increases, so it doesn't solve inequality. I am shocked, though, that you're saying you would support a higher capital gains rate. You're a guy that I would guess makes a large share of your income from capital gains. Right?
STANLEY DRUCKENMILLER: I wish. I’m too short term. But I have had substantial capital gains but it's no—
ROBERT FRANK: So, has that changed for you? Was there a time when you
wouldn't have but now—
STANLEY DRUCKENMILLER: I've never been big on—
ROBERT FRANK: What should the rate be? What do you think is a fair rate for it? Should it be taxed the same as income? 37%. There was a time when they were the same.
STANLEY DRUCKENMILLER: I wouldn't have a problem with that but then don't tell me you're going to raise the 37 to 50 and it's going up on both of them.
ROBERT FRANK: Right.
STANLEY DRUCKENMILLER: Okay. As far as I'm concerned, they didn't do tax reform. Okay. We did some tax reform in ‘86. This wasn't tax reform, if anything the thing became even more complicated. But I would have no problem with normalizing capital gains. I hope I'm not wrong because I could be. To me, you don't want to raise any taxes unless you're going to raise revenue. I don't want to raise capital gains taxes because I want to hurt somebody.
JOE KERNEN: Do you think the marginal rate is at the right level right now?
STANLEY DRUCKENMILLER: I don't know. I'm a Laffer curve guy. I don't know where we Are. you know we know it's between zero and a hundred. I don't know which it is.
JOE KERNEN: But would you-- do we need to -- that you've mentioned seventy cents of every dollar. I mean that's a problem is it not?
STANLEY DRUCKENMILLER: What’s seventy cents?
ROBERT FRANK: Who is paying—
STANLEY DRUCKENMILLER: Oh, the entitlements?
JOE KERNEN: The entitlements. I mean if we do anything with increased revenue, I mean, spending should still probably be cut and we need to address entitlements.
STANLEY DRUCKENMILLER: We don't even need to cut entitlement spending. We just need to slow them down or make them grow at zero and all our problems go away.
JOE KERNEN: It’s not exactly—
STANLEY DRUCKENMILLER: They all went up over five or six percent last year what nominal GDP growth less than that. They're still gaining. And by the way, we haven't even gotten into the really demographic-- the gray boom spot I talked about twelve years ago, if you remember. I'm sure you don't. I thought the real consequences won't screw up until 2025, 2030. I said this in 2012. Well it's not 2025 yet but we're getting there.
On Minimum Wage and Charter Schools
BECKY QUICK: Let's talk minimum wage and much more with our special guest today, Stanley Druckenmiller who is the CEO of Duquesne Family Office. Stan, you saw what Bernie had to say. You were watching this week as it was coming out and you sent us an email because I got you a little fired up. What do you think about it?
STANLEY DRUCKENMILLER: Well first of all, on the minimum wage, we just had a discussion about innovation. We didn't we didn't go into the cloud and to me the choice is it's not minimum wage versus a wage. It's minimum wage versus no wage. And if you want to hurt workers with what's going on with the alternatives with technology, jack the minimum wage up enough and you'll have job losses as a result. So, it doesn't make a lot of sense to me.
But the thing that really enraged me that Comrade Sanders said was his comment about charter schools. I've spent the better part of my life, one of the great joys of my life was meeting Geoff Canada. It's funny, I was talking to Fiona last night. To have met Geoff, Geoff Canada and Ken Langone and have them both in my life for over 30 years, I mean what a privilege and what luck. But getting back on topic. When he says he's against charter schools I know the man just doesn't care about inequality. All he cares about power. Because that is disruptive to the African-American community who prefers this and the only way you get out of inequality is with education at the early level and giving everybody on this -- in this country a shot. And believe me this myth about pulling up your bootstraps and you know I'm going to make it, that's fine for ninety ninety-five percent of the population. But there are communities out there where these kids have no shot because the public schools are just so terrible they're never going to be able to compete in our economy. And for Sanders, I assume he's in the pocket of the Teacher’s Unions, I don't know why said it but how in the world can you be against charter schools if you're serious about the inequality issue.
BECKY QUICK: And we should tell people about the work you've done in Harlem. How long have you been there?
STANLEY DRUCKENMILLER: Well I've been there -- I met Geoff in 1993. But it's Geoff’s work it's not mine. But we're serving 13,000 kids and 25,000 families in a hundred blocks of Central Harlem. We've moved the needle on every single metric. And Becky, if you just even drive up there and I showed you pictures of 25 years ago, you won't even believe what's out in the community. Our biggest problem is gentrification which is a high-class problem relative what we're looking at. And what's really cool is the Harlem Children's Zone model which by the way Geoffrey and Anne, not me, is being replicated in communities all over the country. Obama's Promise Neighborhoods started it. So, we're not just affecting like 13,000 kids up there now. It's becoming a nationwide thing and I think it's one of the answers, one, to the whole to the whole inequality issue. So, it's very exciting.
BECKY QUICK: When you see hundreds of millions of dollars poured into a system like the Newark school system without really decent results to show for any of that what do you think?
STANLEY DRUCKENMILLER: It broke my heart. But you know, I hate to say it, because I know I know you're going to have viewers who passionately disagree but I'm just not a believer in government being the most effective actor. And this whole tax debate is interesting because I understand, I really do understand why people want higher taxes and they think that's the solution inequality. But you also need to understand, I'd much, much rather have a Jeff Canada implementing programs and use his talents through private sector donors and donors that hold his organization accountable rather than letting the government—
BECKY QUICK: Just to be clear you think that's a solution for the five percent of communities where you're not getting decent public schools, correct? You don't think that this is something -- I mean I'm a product of the public schools for most of my life. My mom was a public schoolteacher. My kids are in the public schools.
STANLEY DRUCKENMILLER: We’re in the public schools in Harlem. We're not -- one of the big myths perceptions about Harlem Children's Zone is we’re a charter school network. A) that's a small piece of what we do up there we have Baby College, we have pre-k we have employment and technology centers. You know, basically from cradle to college we're all over these kids and all over the process. But we deeply, deeply believe in public schools. So that's not that's not what I'm talking about here. I'm just saying that there are kids that need a shot and it cannot be done just through charter schools. And by the way, if they're charter schools that are not performing they should be shut down.
On Jobs Numbers
BECKY QUICK: Are jobs numbers important today?
STANLEY DRUCKENMILLER: I think they're very important. There's a technical thing when you have five weeks in May that could bias the number upward the seasonal adjustment. They're important only because they affect the Fed. I don't use the job numbers to predict the economy. It's just unbelievable the obsession with a lagging indicator. I use them for entry and exit points to fade. But I think if the job number is weak given everything else they're saying, the Fed will be on a clearer easing path by July.