Wall Street executives who lost a bet that Republican Mitt Romney would defeat President Barack Obama are bracing for tougher regulation and hoping a deal can be struck with Congress to cut the deficit.
Obama’s choice to succeed Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner will be watched closely for signs about the administration’s approach to business and the deficit, industry executives said. Erskine Bowles, who served as chief of staff under former President Bill Clinton, would be a sign that Obama is willing to endorse a bipartisan debt-reduction plan supported by many business leaders, they said.
“With the appointment of the Treasury secretary, Obama will be sending an important message to the public and to the foreign governments who own a lot of Treasuries,” Curtis Arledge, chief executive officer of Bank of New York Mellon Corp.’s investment-management arm, which oversees $1.4 trillion, told journalists in New York. “If he goes with somebody like Erskine Bowles, then the message will be that he cares about the deficit and is serious about cutting it.”
Shares of Wall Street firms fell in New York yesterday on what analysts said were dashed hopes that a Romney administration would roll back or temper the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act that overhauled financial regulation. Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Bank of America Corp. and Citigroup Inc. each tumbled more than 6 percent, putting them among the 10 biggest decliners in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.
Employees of Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Credit Suisse Group AG made their firms the five biggest sources of campaign contributions to Romney, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based research group that tracks political donations.
Still, executives at the firms downplayed the significance of the election, focusing instead on the need to achieve political agreement on debt reduction and avert the so-called fiscal cliff of tax increases and spending cuts scheduled to take effect at the beginning of next year.
“The outcome of the election almost takes a backseat to the formulation of a plan to address the federal deficit,” James Mahoney, Bank of America’s head of corporate communications and public policy, said in a phone interview. “That is clearly the No. 1 focus at this point. It’s an essential ingredient for stability of the financial markets and for a strong economy.”
Wall Street leaders started throwing their support behind Bowles’s debt-reduction efforts even before the election. JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon, 56, said last month that the economy “would be booming” if Congress had passed the so-called Simpson-Bowles plan co-authored with former Republican Senator Alan Simpson last year.
Obama named the two in February 2010 to lead an 18-member bipartisan commission. Its $3.8 trillion budget-cutting plan would have lowered individual and corporate income-tax rates, eliminated deductions such as the one for mortgage interest, raised the gasoline tax and reduced Social Security, Medicare and discretionary spending.
The plan was rejected by seven commission members, including Romney’s vice presidential running mate Paul Ryan, and failed to reach the 14 votes required to send it to Congress. It never was taken up for a vote by the Senate and was defeated 382-38 in a House vote this year.
Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd C. Blankfein, 58, was interviewed with Bowles and Simpson on CNBC on Oct. 11 to promote reviving a bipartisan plan to reduce the $16 trillion U.S. government debt.
If there were “some compromise laid out, what kind of stimulus do you think that would provide?” Blankfein asked at the time. “I’d be a buyer of the market.”
Blankfein, who wouldn’t reveal which candidate he voted for, said now that it’s over, “we can all focus on playing a part toward our shared goal of making our country and economy more successful.”
Joe Evangelisti, a spokesman for JPMorgan, declined to comment when asked which candidate Dimon supported.
“To succeed in business you have to be able to compromise, why should that be different in politics?” John Mack, the former chairman of Morgan Stanley and a Romney backer, said yesterday in an interview with Bloomberg Television’s Betty Liu. “Erskine has plenty of experience not only in government but in business. He ran his own business. He grew up in business.”
Bowles has served as a board member of Morgan Stanley since December 2005, when Mack was CEO and chairman. He is also a director of Facebook Inc. and Norfolk Southern Corp. His wife, Crandall Bowles, is on JPMorgan’s board.
Mack said he doesn’t think the administration worked closely enough with the business community, adding that he would be comforted by seeing Obama choose a CEO to run Treasury such as BlackRock Inc.’s Larry Fink, General Electric Co.’s Jeff Immelt, American Express Co.’s Kenneth I. Chenault or Honeywell International Inc.’s David Cote.
“Not only are they first-class executives but they’re global, and the next Treasury secretary has to have experience in the global economy,” he said.
Others on Wall Street said that experience in Washington might be more important for the next Treasury secretary than a business background. Jacob Lew, 57, Obama’s chief of staff, has years of experience as both a congressional aide and as director of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget.
Lew “knows his way around Washington” and also has “strong backing” from Obama, Evercore Partners Inc. CEO Ralph Schlosstein, an Obama supporter, told Bloomberg Television’s Erik Schatzker and Stephanie Ruhle yesterday. Bowles, while also knowledgeable about Washington, “doesn’t bring the same closeness to the president,” he said.
Harry Wilson, founder and CEO of corporate-restructuring firm Maeva Group LLC and a former adviser to Obama’s Auto Task Force, attributed a decline in stock markets after the election to concern that Obama won’t be able to negotiate successfully with House Republicans to achieve agreement on debt reduction.
“This president’s been the primary obstacle to it and some of his political staff,” Wilson, a Romney supporter, told Schatzker and Ruhle yesterday. “This is a massive negotiation, and it’s being led by a guy who hasn’t negotiated a deal really in his life.”
The solution worked out by the Obama administration will probably include more tax increases and fewer spending cuts than investors thought before the election, which is weighing on the market, Pacific Investment Management Co.’s Bill Gross told Bloomberg Television’s Trish Regan.
“We played the old Beatles song ‘The Taxman,’ on our trading floor this morning,” said Gross, who manages the $281 billion Total Return Fund.
Winning the confidence of investors, bankers and foreign governments will depend in large part on who Obama chooses to lead Treasury.
“We hope they do in fact make good progress in terms of the quality of the individual that goes into this role,” Kevin Kabat, CEO of Cincinnati-based Fifth Third Bancorp, said in a phone interview. “It will be really the determining legacy of the next four years.”