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John Rogers Jr: The Most Bullish Guy at Milken?

Tuesday, 1 May 2012 | 6:46 PM ET

Much of the talk at this year’s Milken Institute Global Conference has been about the risks faced by economies around the world. If there is optimism, it is a cautious sort of optimism.

Walking around the halls or sitting in on the panels, you’ll hear talk about “soft patches” and “slow motion recovery.” Pimco CEO Mohamed El-Erian said anyone who expects a quick recovery will “be disappointed.”

Which is what made John Rogers Jr., founder and CEO of Ariel Investments, so refreshing on Tuesday morning’s panel, “U.S. Overview: Is The Recovery Sustainable?” He’s probably the most bullish guy at Milken.

“The consistent message we’re getting is that the recovery is real. Balance sheets are rock solid, valuations are modest,” Rogers said.

As a result, he thinks there will be a “wave” of M&A activity that will drive stock prices even higher.

“I’m very, very enthusiastic about the markets,” Rogers said.

Rogers founded the money management firm Ariel in 1983, to focus on small and medium-sized companies. His optimism was based on conversations with the businesses Ariel invests with. He also sits on the boards of Aon, Exelon and McDonalds.

The rest of the panel was far less optimistic than Rogers.

Gary Loveman, the chief of Caesars Entertainment Growth, argued that consumers are “very budget constrained.” Eric Spiegel, chief of Siemens, was ven more blunt.

“To think that the consumers are going to be a powerful engine of growth is unlikely,” he said.

But Rogers had an answer for them: Housing is going to be a stronger driver of the economy than people anticipate.

“We’re underestimating the power of the housing recovery,” Rogers said.

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