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(Bloomberg) -- Billionaires gathering at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting this week in Davos, Switzerland, are worried about global terrorism, oil prices and Vladimir Putin’s stance on Ukraine. The one thing they agree on is that the Fed will keep interest rates at record lows.
About a half dozen of the wealthiest participants, including Irish telecommunications mogul Denis O’Brien and Italian shoe billionaire Mario Polegato, said the U.S. Federal Reserve won’t raise rates until the end of the year.
“Everything is too tender at the moment,” O’Brien, chairman of Hamilton, Bermuda-based Digicel Group Ltd., the largest telecommunications company in the Caribbean, said by phone. The Fed won’t increase rates “until late 2015 or the beginning of 2016 at the earliest.”
The 56-year-old, who has attended Davos for more than a decade and often comes to the event for just a day on his Gulfstream 650 jet plane, said the trade relationship between Russia and Europe and the U.S. is the greatest geopolitical issue facing the world’s economy.
“The U.S. and Europe have the wrong approach on Russia,” he said. “The big issue here is whether the EU, U.S. and IMF will help Ukraine prevent a default. If Europe doesn’t stand firm with the Ukrainians, the country will melt down.”
O’Brien is one of at least 100 billionaires joining more than 2,500 business and political leaders in Switzerland this week, according to a list of attendees and promotional materials obtained by Bloomberg News, which polled them on global risks and investing.
He said if he had $100 million to invest, he would put $60 million in Yandex NV, which operates the biggest search engine in Russia, and $40 million in mobile-phone operator VimpelCom Ltd. He said oil would be $60 per barrel at the end of the year.
The wealthiest people on the planet got even richer last year, adding $92 billion to their collective net worth, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, a daily ranking of the world’s 400 wealthiest individuals. The aggregate net worth of the world’s top billionaires stands at about $4 trillion, according to the ranking.
Jack Ma, last year’s biggest gainer, is attending the forum in Davos, as is Bill Gates, the founder and chairman of Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft Corp. and the world’s richest person. Both declined to participate in the Bloomberg survey through spokesmen.
Billionaire Adi Godrej, 72, said oil would be around $45 per barrel at the start of 2016, and that the militant Islamic State movement is the biggest threat to global stability. He said he would invest $100 million in Picassos over stocks, U.S. dollars or gold.
Godrej, who has visited Davos for more than 20 years, forecast that the Fed would raise rates in the middle of the year, and would do so in two or three tranches. Last year, he predicted that interest rates would rise “somewhat in the developed world.”
Rahul Bajaj is also among the 15 Indian billionaires in attendance, topped only by the U.S. contingent, which has more than 25 at the event, including investor George Soros, Google Inc. Chairman Eric Schmidt, and Facebook Inc. Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, who became a billionaire during last year’s meeting.
Bajaj said terrorism and income inequality are the biggest threats to the world. International conflict, along with extreme weather events and high unemployment, are among the five top global risks in terms of likelihood, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Risk study, which was released Jan. 15.
He said he would invest $100 million in the stocks of his family businesses, including Pune, India-based Bajaj Auto Ltd., the nation’s second-largest motorcycle company and maker of a popular three-wheeled auto rickshaw.
The billionaire, who missed his first annual meeting since 1979 last year, is a friend of the conference’s founder, Klaus Schwab.
“I go to Davos for two reasons,” Bajaj said two years ago in a phone interview from his home in Pune. “I go there to make new friends and continue old friendships, and I go to enjoy myself, enjoy the weather and learn a lot.”
Mario Moretti Polegato is the only billionaire coming to Davos who lives in Italy. The founder and chairman of Geox SpA, a Treviso, Italy-based shoemaker and retailer, said European politics and the growth of populist parties are worrisome.
The 62-year-old, who often holds court in the lobby of the Edelweiss hotel a few blocks away from the forum’s Conference Center, said oil will be $70 a barrel at the end of the year, and that he would invest in stocks over U.S. dollars, gold or Picassos.
Kenneth Tuchman, the founder of Englewood, Colorado-based TeleTech Holdings Inc., which operates call centers, forecast the Fed wouldn’t raise rates until the fourth quarter at the earliest. The 55-year-old said in an e-mail that the world’s biggest geopolitical challenges are “multiple revolutions due to oil prices,” which he forecast would be $60 per barrel at the end of the year.
Russian David Yakobachvili, chairman of Moscow-based Bioenergy Corp., said in a Jan. 19 phone interview that he doesn’t expect the Fed to raise rates this year because the U.S. economy “is booming and they do not need to scare away investors.”
He said he doesn’t expect oil to increase in price this year, and that a military conflict is the biggest risk facing the world.
“Fixing economic problems isn’t that difficult,” Yakobachvili, 57, said. “Stopping military escalation is.”
At least eight Russian billionaires are in Davos this week.
Pegasystems Inc. founder Alan Trefler became a billionaire in 2013 after his relationship management software maker surged in value. The 58-year-old, whose father was a Holocaust survivor who immigrated to the U.S. after World War II, said radicalization is the biggest threat to the world.
“It is a divisive force affecting every aspect of society -- economic, political, cultural, familial,” he said in an e- mail.
Trefler was a chess prodigy in his youth. He tied for first place at the World Open Chess Championship in 1975, while studying at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, where he received a degree in economics and computer science. He formed Pegasystems in 1983. The company has fallen about 20 percent in the past 12 months, reducing his fortune to about $800 million.
He said the U.S. dollar and stocks are expensive and gold is for pessimists.
“I’d invest in the next Picasso,” he said. “I would tell you who that is but it could impede my investment.”
--With assistance from Brendan Coffey in Boston, Alex Sazonov in Moscow and Devon Pendleton in London.
To contact the reporters on this story: Matthew G. Miller in Davos at firstname.lastname@example.org; Tom Metcalf in London at email@example.com To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peter Newcomb at firstname.lastname@example.org Robert LaFranco