Global real estate investor Barry Sternlicht told CNBC on Thursday that he disagrees with Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Shiller, who predicted a day earlier that the U.S. residential housing market looks topped out.
Housing is a major asset class that’s “actually trailing asset bubbles,” said Sternlicht, chairman and CEO of the $42 billion-plus investment firm Starwood Capital Group. “It’s cheaper to buy a house and finance it, than it is to rent in many markets.”
In a “Squawk Box” interview Wednesday, Shiller, co-founder of the Case-Shiller housing index, said he “won’t bet” on the increase in home prices since 2012 continuing.
“Home prices are … at about the right level based on history. So maybe they won’t go anywhere in the near future,” the Yale professor warned.
A day later on the program, Sternlicht expressed optimism about buying homes as an investment. “The housing sector is going to be a major asset class in this country.”
The Starwood Capital chief did acknowledge that Americans are “a little nervous about taking mortgages.” He blames that, in part, on the gridlock in Washington, D.C., in solving the country’s debt problems and reforming entitlements.
But Sternlicht said the collapse in oil that’s led to cheaper gasoline would help consumers feel more confident. “You’re going to see things like lodging doing better this summer. People will be driving more.” He also predicted the impact of less expensive prices at the gas pump would eventually translate into better retail sales.
On the investor side of the equation, he’s concerned about the easy money policies being pursued around the world.
“Smart investors are really nervous,” Sternlicht said. “It seems to me, there’s a big dike [on] the world’s economies, and the politicians and the [central] banks are plugging all these holes, but it’s getting harder and harder to hold these holes.”