Against all odds, Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris says he would buy airlines

Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris told CNBC on Tuesday he would buy airlines, going against fellow billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who announced that Berkshire Hathaway sold all its airline stocks at the firm’s annual meeting on Saturday.

Sawiris explained that that he sees opportunity not only in airlines, but also in tourism, hotels, and the internet sector.

“With every crisis there is opportunity,” Sawiris told CNBC’s Hadley Gamble.

“You can go and buy an airline today for $1 if you are assuming the bulk of the debt.”

Sawiris is chairman and chief executive  of Orascom Investment Holding and the only non-North Korean citizen to own a telecom licence in North Korea.

The coronavirus pandemic has harmed air travel demand, driving U.S. airline stocks to plunge by more than 95 percent.

To date, the virus has infected more than 3.6 million people worldwide and killed at least 256,800, according to data compiled by the Johns Hopkins University.

Sawiris also told CNBC that he agreed with U.S. President Donald Trump on the administration’s controversial plan to reopen America’s economy.

The Egyptian billionaire said this is “one of the few times” that Trump is right.

“They might not find the cure, they might not find the vaccine, so how long are we going to be in prison in our homes?”

Sawiris sees oil price at $100 in 18 months

Speaking about the oil industry, Sawiris said the price war between de facto OPEC leader Saudi Arabia and Russia was a “calculated” effort to kill the shale industry in the U.S., and that the Saudis got it right on oil in the long term.

In March, OPEC and other major producers aligned with it failed to reach a deal to cut output, just as the outbreak began to stifle demand for crude. Prices plunged to 18-year lows before the alliance reached a historic agreement to cut 9.7 million barrels a day in April, equaling 10 percent of world production and the biggest output cut in history.

When CNBC’s Gamble asked Sawiris if oil would have hit the same levels if a March OPEC+ deal had been reached, he explained that prices would have plunged anyway due to the reduction in consumption, “but it would have not fallen to this level.”

“I think it was calculated,” the Egyptian billionaire said.

“I think they knew that this was going to happen and they still wanted to do it because, by killing a competitor, the price will rise beyond 50 or 60 dollars. So I actually believe that 18 months from now oil will hit $100.”