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US 'OK' but Europe's where it's at: Apollo's Black

Leon Black, chairman and CEO of Apollo Management
Jonathan Alcorn | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Leon Black, chairman and CEO of Apollo Management

Good investments are more difficult to find in the U.S., and Europe is likely a better place for private equity, credit and real estate plays, Leon Black, chief executive officer of $161 billion Apollo Global Management, said Friday.

"I'd say right now the deal flow in the U.S. is OK. I wouldn't say it's robust," Black said, speaking at the Columbia Business School Private Equity and Venture Capital Conference in New York.

Black said there are still some U.S. opportunities despite "pretty full" company valuations for potential buyouts.

"There are idiosyncratic things to do off the beaten path," Black said, noting recent firm investments in child-themed restaurant Chuck E. Cheese, an undisclosed chemical company and a small slot machine-focused gaming business. "You don't always have to have a global recession to find" distressed companies.

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He also noted the potential for deals in natural resources like shale oil and chemicals and financial services firms.

The challenges in the U.S., according to Black, are threefold: slow economic growth, the likelihood of increased interest rates and relatively high prices.

"It has produced a somewhat tepid environment currently," Black said.

He said the real opportunity is across the Atlantic.

European opportunities, according to Black, include nonperforming loans, real estate, consumer plays in Spain, Ireland, the U.K. and Germany. That builds on recent purchases by Apollo of banks in Spain and Germany; auto loan portfolios and credit card companies in Spain and Ireland.

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"Europe is a place where we are very, very active," he said. "There are interesting things to do," Black added.

Black said European banks are finally starting to sell assets as part of their deleveraging process.

Separately, Black disagreed with a recent proposal from the FDIC, the Federal Reserve and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency to limit leverage ratios to six times for large banks, which would likely change the amount they would loan to leveraged buyout firms.

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"It's a bit concerning to have a blanket number like that. Different industries have different risks and growth rates and volatility," Black said. "It's micromanaging too much from the regulatory world."

He noted that the rules would have little impact on Apollo as its deals typically involve leverage of four or five times, under the proposed six times cap. Black also said he generally agreed for the need to look at bank leverage, which was too high before the financial crisis.

—By CNBC's Lawrence Delevingne. Follow him on Twitter @ldelevingne.

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