Real Estate

Ross:  Housing Issues Scarier Than High Oil Prices

Billionaire Wilbur Ross says the nation's housing situation is scarier than the oil-price crunch.

"You saw those numbers that were reported yesterday, 16 percent down from the 2006 highs," Ross told CNBC.  "Sixteen percent of $23 trillion means $3.8 trillion of Americans' net worth has been wiped out by that decline."

The impact on the economy, he said, is likely to be severe.

"Economists allow for the sort of 'wealth effect,' or 'poverty effect,' that's probably something like 5 percent that gets reflected in consumer spending,"  Ross said.  "If it is, that's $180 billion, or more than 1 percent of our gross domestic product."

Wilbur Ross on the Economy

He also advocated the separation of the jobs of chairman and chief executive, a position that will be voiced by dissident ExxonMobil shareholders at the company's annual meeting in Dallas Wednesday.

"For the big public companies, it makes all the sense in the world, because they need to be accountable, and I can't understand what people are trying to hide from when they don't want an outsider to be the chairperson," he said. "I like the idea of checks and balances.  I think that 99 percent of all American companies are run properly, and don't have accounting irregularities, or anything like that. The idea, though, is to avoid being in the one percent that do."

Ross also expressed alarm at statistics released on Tuesday about U.S. savings and loan institutions.

"To me, the other scary thing was that the U.S. thrifts originated 20 percent fewer mortgages in the first quarter than they did, first quarter, a year ago," he said.  "That's 30-some-odd billion less in the way of mortgages. I think that the thrifts are going to get worse."

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