Billionaire investor George Soros urged members of the European Parliament on Thursday to "drastically reshape" fiscal policy across the region in the wake of Great Britain's vote to exit the European Union.
Soros, after recently calling the vote "catastrophic" economically, today seemed more upbeat in his outlook. "Last Friday morning, the disintegration of the European Union seemed practically inevitable," he told representatives of the (for now) 28-nation bloc, according to his prepared remarks. "Over the past week, buyer's remorse has begun to set in," he added. "The tragedy no longer looks like a fait accompli."
A Hungarian immigrant to the U.S. who retains dual citizenship, Soros' philanthropic endeavors through his Open Society Foundations focus on civil liberties and government accountability; he was initially invited to address the EU parliament on Europe's refugee crisis. Since the beginning of 2015, over a million migrants and refugees have attempted to reach Europe, roughly three-quarters of them fleeing violence in Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
Soros cited the lack of an effective response to the refugee crisis as a central factor in Britain's exit vote, and called on the EU to initiate "surge funding" that would overhaul the continent's approach to fiscal policy. He added that the EU needs to adopt a government budget that can spend counter-cyclically -- increasing outlays during recessions to spur growth.
"This entails raising debt," Soros said. "There is a strong case to be made for using the EU's balance sheet." Soros estimated the EU's unused borrowing capacity through existing instruments at roughly €63 billion, the equivalent of $70 billion.
Germany, the EU's largest national economy, has staunchly opposed issuing more debt. Increased borrowing would require a steady stream of revenue to meet interest payments. The EU, which raises three-quarters of its revenue from member-state contributions, spent €145 billion in 2015, or about 1% of total GDP. The U.S. government typically spends around 20% of GDP each year.
Soros acknowledged his debt plan would require "new sources of tax revenue" for the EU, which currently relies on member states to collect taxes and customs duties. The debate recalls the early period of the United States, when Alexander Hamilton, the first treasury secretary, argued forcefully and successfully that the federal government should assume the member states' debt and expand its taxation policies.
It's unclear how Soros, who has a net worth of roughly $25 billion, fared financially as markets crashed last Friday in the wake of Britain's vote. In 1992, he famously bet against the British pound during the U.K. currency crisis, netting a $1 billion profit. This time, he was reportedly holding a long position in the currency, which is down over 9% in the week since the historic vote.
But Soros held significant hedging positions that could have earned the financier a hefty profit.
Earlier this year, Soros Fund Management, his family investing office, bought up Barrick Gold (ABX) shares that were worth over $260 million at the end of March, according to filings. In the wake of the vote, those shares were worth as much as $415 million -- a profit of over $150 million if Soros timed it right. (A spokesman for Soros declined to comment.)
The billionaire had also accumulated a sizable call position on $123 million worth of shares in
, an exchange-traded fund up roughly 7% from the end of March.
And in the immediate aftermath of Britain's vote on Friday, the investing wizard also bet against Deutsche Bank (DB) - Get Report , scooping up short options on shares worth roughly $100 million. By Tuesday, he'd covered or sold roughly 10% of those short options, according to filings first reported by Die Welt.
Soros' biggest single holding at last report was a put option on $431 million of SPDR S&P 500 ETF (SPY) - Get Report shares, which increase in value as the fund declines. After dropping as much as 3% from the end of the first quarter, when Soros reported holding them, those shares have rebounded to roughly even prices.
See full coverage of Great Britain's decision to leave the European Union here.