Discount brokerage pioneer Chuck Schwab and KKR co-founder George Roberts voiced frustration with President Obama's suddenly strident post-election tone but indicated they thought the U.S. economy would eventually overcome obstacles posed by partisan politics. Schwab himself commented to attendees at the annual Schwab IMPACT conference that the president appeared more concerned with engineering some sort of "social adjustment" than addressing the deficit and restoring economic growth that would lift all boats.
Ironically, Schwab and Roberts, who were interviewed by CNBC's Maria Bartiromo, are old friends who started their businesses on the same day more than 35 years ago. Both men agreed that the uncertainty created by the so-called fiscal cliff might prove a great time to invest for those with a long-term horizon.
It might be just a negotiating ploy, but Obama's shift in stance this week to raise $1.6 trillion in taxes from affluent Americans, double the $800 billion he sought 15 months ago, could throw a wrench into hopes for an early resolution to the fiscal cliff. Schwab suggested it contributed to the 5% decline in equity prices since the president's re-election.
Roberts noted that Europe faces 15 parliamentary elections in the next two years, so it is not just America that is confronted with "more politically caused economic problems than ever." The co-CEO of the nation's second largest private equity concern said the U.S. has "so much growth potential," referring to the boom in oil and gas and the renaissance in manufacturing.
"The U.S. is the only country that can lead the world out of this slowdown," Roberts remarked. "Now is a pretty good time to invest. Take some risks today. We will get through this."
For Schwab, it was the uncertainty created by President Obama's stance towards Republicans that was more problematic than the actual prospect of higher taxes. His opinion was that one can find many points since he has been investing in the last 50 years when taxes have been higher. But if one can find investments that grow faster than tax rates, "you will make money."
As for capital gains, Schwab said investors may not sell investments for years. In all environments in the last half century, taxes have been "all over the place and people have been able to make money."
Despite his frustration with the president, Schwab noted it wasn't just the current occupant of the Oval Office "who got us here, it was the last several presidents." Furthermore, it will take a long time, maybe 10 years, to get out of this mess. And it may take four or five years or more for the public to trust equities again.
Also contributing to investor malaise was the investor disenchantment with many Wall Street firms which overleveraged themselves. While the new Dodd-Frank rules had problems, Schwab said they also had many "good things" that would ultimately help investors and markets.