Davos Billionaires Cautious, Hopeful

It has been prime billionaire hunting season at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, this week: at least 70 ten-figure fortunes have been mingling among 2,600 politicians and business leaders.

More than a dozen billionaires have dropped by the Bloomberg TV set atop the Congress Centre this week, including at least seven yesterday. Their mood was a mixture of caution and cautious optimism, with everyone suggesting the European debt crisis will continue to dominate the dialog through the rest of the conference.

Billionaire Oleg Deripaska, chief executive officer of United Co. Rusal, the world’s largest aluminum producer, said the Russian economy is better than many believe. He said he believes the country’s investment climate often suffers from a negative view.

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Denis O’Brien, owner of Digicel Group Ltd., which supplies cell phone service to the Caribbean, said European nations need to “take their medicine” and that the European Central Bank should implement a TARP-like program. O’Brien has spent much of his time this week promoting foreign direct investment in Haiti.

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Russian billionaire Roustam Tariko, owner of Russian Standard Bank and Russian Standard Vodka, said he is looking at investing in banks in Italy. He later said he believes investing in Western European stocks is a good idea.

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Idan Ofer, a member of one of Israel’s richest families and chairman of Better Place Inc., a maker of products that support electric cars, said 2015 may be a “tipping point” for the industry. He also said he is bullish on mining, believing that commodities are a bad bet only when India and China have the same living standards as the U.S.

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Most of the billionaires seem to be leaving Davos today, but we’ll keep hunting.

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