By Svea Herbst-Bayliss
LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - Billionaire investor T. Boone Pickens, who cemented his fortune with bets on oil companies, said the price of oil would likely hit $75 dollars a barrel by yearend as demand revives.
The octogenarian corporate-raider-turned-hedge-fund-investor also mused about politics, saying he has put his money on former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. He complained about gridlock in Washington and called Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton a "loser."
At age 86, Pickens packed a ballroom at the annual SkyBridge Alternatives Conference, or SALT, where hedge fund managers and investors are meeting to talk markets and politics and later held court for a group of journalists.
Talking about what he knows best, Pickens said the price of oil would climb because demand has picked up anew, with worldwide demand hovering around 1.5 million barrels a day, up from 660,000 barrels a day in 2014.
At the same time, oil inventories have peaked as fewer rigs are pumping oil now in the United States.
Last year's unexpected decline in oil prices hurt many hedge fund managers.
As Pickens was speaking, oil prices tumbled 3 percent on Thursday as a resurgent dollar erased gains from the past two sessions, setting the market up for its first weekly loss in five. U.S. crude settled down $1.99, at $58.94 a barrel.
Turning to politics, Pickens clearly had a favorite candidate in mind even as most hedge fund managers are still evaluating an ever-growing field on the Republican side and Hillary Clinton, who leads in the quest to capture the Democratic nomination.
"I'm backing Bush," Pickens said about former President George W. Bush's younger brother Jeb. Pickens said he had donated $100,000 to the campaign effort, although Bush has not yet formally entered the race.
Asked what Bush's first priority should be if he should win the White House, Pickens said "get that mess in the Middle East straightened out."
Other prominent conference guests also weighed in on the 2016 race. David McCormick, President of hedge fund Bridgewater Associates and a former Treasury Department official, said he expects Bush to beat Clinton while Randal Quarles, managing partner at Cynosure Group said Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker would beat Clinton.
A few guests, however, said Clinton could become the country's first female president. William Daley, who had been chief of staff to President Obama, predicted Clinton would beat Bush.
(Additional reporting by Barani Krishnan in New York; Editing by Ken Wills)