Ken Griffin–the billionaire investor, Republican megadonor and scourge of meme stock traders–took the stage at the annual Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills on Monday for a wide-ranging discussion with Bloomberg editor-at-large Erik Schatzke. The outspoken Griffin–who Forbes estimates to be the world’s 53rd richest person, worth $26.1 billion–had a lot to say on topics including inflation and plunging markets (“These are really trying times”), to the West’s energy dependence (“We have grossly underinvested in fossil fuels”) and his latest attempt to buy soccer club Chelsea (“She’s the one that got away. Went for her again, she got away again.”)
Here are some of the highlights:
Formerly a prominent skeptic–he once called crypto “a jihadist call” against the dollar–Griffin backtracked in March, saying that “the crypto market today has a market capitalization of about $2 trillion in round numbers, which tells you that I haven’t been right on this call.” He said his Citadel Securities would likely move into market making in crypto in the coming months.
How’s it going?
“You’ve found the great hotspot topic of debate within my firm,” Griffin told Schatzke on Monday. “All my colleagues who are younger than I am probably think I’m a dinosaur on this issue. They’re big believers. They believe that cryptocurrency has an important role in the global economy as a means of facilitating payment in a web3 world.” Griffin is coming around–at least to the profit potential of it all. “I have to live with the reality that an asset’s worth what people perceive it to be worth,” he admitted, so it’s “reasonable to expect to see us be more involved in the crypto space, providing liquidity to institutional, and potentially retail, investors.”
Still, he isn’t exactly rushing in: “It’s difficult to build to the level of rigor that we would want to build to. Things like ensuring that we’re not a party to a transaction with North Korea are really important to us–it may not be to our competitors, but I’m not gonna help fund the North Koreans with their various ventures by mistakenly buying their cryptocurrency.”
And he isn’t exactly a believer: “I’ve actually been very proud of what Amazon has done for the U.S. consumer. I feel really proud of what Apple’s done for the U.S. consumer,” Griffin said. “[iPhones have] just completely changed lives. Amazon’s completely changed the ability for somebody to purchase goods or a small retailer to offer their products on a giant, vast, virtual marketplace. These are businesses that have really, clearly changed the world for the better. I’m still looking for that story of how crypto has made the world so much better. I’m looking at stories about how Bitcoin consumes as much power as a small country.”
Elon’s new toy
Griffin isn’t on Twitter, but he seems bullish about the social media company’s future. “I think the most important part of Elon Musk owning Twitter is about free speech,” Griffin told Schatzke. “The social media networks are so focused on curating what all of us see and read every day, they’ve really eroded free speech as you and I knew growing up. I know Elon is just deeply committed to the idea of freedom of expression.”
“Free speech doesn’t necessarily mean good ideas, to be clear,” he added, “but to have a robust debate around ideas is how we actually come to reasonable conclusions.”
DeSantis vs. Disney
The top GOP donor this election cycle, with some $40 million in political contributions, Griffin has also been a big backer of Florida governor Ron DeSantis. “He’s done a lot of things right,” Griffin opined on Monday.
That includes the much-debated “Don’t Say Gay” bill, signed into law by DeSantis in March, that bans schools from instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity for kindergarteners through third graders. It’s “mind blowing that this is an item of debate,” Griffin said of the law, which critics have said will harm the LGBTQ community.
“I actually think this is a really important point of view that [DeSantis] has,” Griffin said. “I happen to agree with it.”
What he doesn’t agree with: DeSantis’ spat with Disney, which vowed to fight to repeal the law. Last month DeSantis signed a bill to strip Disney World of its status as an “independent special district.” “I don’t appreciate Governor DeSantis going after Disney’s tax status,” Griffin said. “It can be portrayed, or feel, or look like retaliation.”
The billionaire investor and political kingmaker issued a clear warning: “It’s important that the leaders in both parties stay above the fray when it comes to retaliation against corporate America.”