By Elif Kaban
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Commodities investment guru Jim Rogers stepped into the U.S. subprime fray on Wednesday, predicting a real estate crash that would trigger defaults and spread contagion to emerging markets.
"You can't believe how bad it's going to get before it gets any better," the prominent U.S. fund manager told Reuters by telephone from New York.
"It's going to be a disaster for many people who don't have a clue about what happens when a real estate bubble pops.
"It is going to be a huge mess," said Rogers, who has put his $15 million belle epoque mansion on Manhattan's Upper West Side on the market and is planning to move to Asia.
Worries about losses in the U.S. mortgage market have sent stock prices falling in Asia and Europe, with shares in financial services companies falling the most.
Some investors fear the problems of lenders who make subprime loans to people with weak credit histories are spreading to mainstream financial firms and will worsen the U.S. housing slowdown.
"Real estate prices will go down 40-50 percent in bubble areas. There will be massive defaults. This time it'll be worse because we haven't had this kind of speculative buying in U.S. history," Rogers said.
"When markets turn from bubble to reality, a lot of people get burned."
The fund manager, who co-founded the Quantum Fund with billionaire investor George Soros in the 1970s and has focused on commodities since 1998, said the crisis would spread to emerging markets which he said now faced a prolonged bear run.
"When you have a financial crisis, it reverberates in other financial markets, especially in those with speculative excess," he said.
"Right now, there is huge speculative excess in emerging markets around the world. There will be a lot of money coming out of emerging markets.
"I've sold out of emerging markets except for China," said Rogers, long a prominent China bull.
Even in China, the world's fastest expanding economy, Rogers said stocks were overvalued and could go down 30-40 percent.
But he added: "China is one of the few countries in the world where I'm willing to sit out a 30-40 percent decline."
The last stock market bubble to burst was the dot-com craze which sparked a crash from March 2000 to October 2002.
When the last bubble burst in Japan, said Rogers, stock prices went down 85 percent despite the country's high savings rate and huge balance of payment surplus.
"This is the end of the liquidity party," said Rogers. "Some emerging markets will go down 80 percent, some will go down 50 percent. Some will most probably collapse."