Nassim Taleb, author of “The Black Swan,” said he favors investing in Europe over the U.S. even with the possible breakup of the single European currency in part because of the euro area’s superior deficit situation.
Europe’s lack of a centralized government is another reason it’s preferable to invest in the region, said Taleb, a professor of risk engineering at New York University whose 2007 best-selling book argued that history is littered with rare events that can’t be predicted by trends.
A breakup of the euro “is not a big deal,” Taleb said yesterday at an event in Montreal hosted by the Alternative Investment Management Association. “When they break it up, there will be a lot of fun currencies. This is why I am not afraid of Europe, or investing in Europe. I’m afraid of the United States.”
The budget deficit as a proportion of gross domestic product in the U.S. amounted to 8.2 percent at the end of 2011, government figures show. That’s twice the 4.1 percent ratio for euro-region countries, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
“Of course Europe has its problems, but it’s in much better shape than the United States,” Taleb said. He voiced similar concerns about U.S. prospects at a conference in Tokyo in September.
Yields on two-year Treasury notes were little changed at 0.285 percent at 9:19 p.m. New York time yesterday, while yields on five-year notes dropped more than one basis point to 0.761 percent.
Rising interest rates would make things worse for the U.S., said Taleb, a principal at hedge fund Universa Investments LP who also serves as an adviser to the International Monetary Fund.
“We have zero interest rates,” Taleb said. “If interest rates go up in the United States, you can imagine what the deficit would be. Europe is like someone who is ill but is conscious of it. In the United States we are ill, but we don’t know it. We don’t talk about it.”
Europe’s lack of a centralized government works in its favor, he said.
“The best thing Europe ever did is managing to have members bickering with each other, so you don’t have the big government,” Taleb said. “Centralized government doesn’t work. In Europe they tried to have a powerful Brussels, but what happens when you have a powerful Brussels? You have lobbies hijacking Brussels.”