TAMPA — The gloom of a rugged couple of weeks on Wall Street hung heavy when famed financial adviser, investor and pundit Roger Altman rolled into Tampa last week.
At 68, Altman has seen his share of financial turbulence in the markets. To him, the frantic trading that led to wiping away most market gains for the year is nothing particularly troublesome.
None of the current ills plaguing Wall Street — not the persistently subpar recovery nor signs Europe could slip into another recession — made him fear that America's economic growth will be derailed from growing at a 3 percent clip or so for two or three more years.
"I think there's a good chance we'll all look back at this volatility as the market correction that was due," he told dozens of high net worth clients and would-be clients of Evercore, the New York financial advisory firm Altman founded 19 years ago.
The group, gathered at the posh Oxford Exchange near downtown Thursday night, came for hors d'oeuvres, drinks and insights about where to put their money. For Altman and other Evercore executives, it was a chance to introduce themselves.
Evercore Wealth Management, the investment advisory firm, has swelled into a major player with $5.5 billion in assets under management. However, it just opened its first Florida office for its private client group here in April.
CEO Jeff Maurer said he's not worried about following a string of banks and investment firms that have chased wealthy snowbirds into the Florida market only to beat a hasty retreat under heightened competition. "I have no doubt we're here to stay," he said.
Altman, the clients' main attraction of the evening, is well-known in political, economic and media circles. A former Lehman Brothers executive, he became the No. 2 person in the U.S. Treasury Department under President Bill Clinton, resigning under pressure over his handling of congressional inquiries into the Whitewater/Arkansas land deal scandal.
He returned to the private sector with his company, Evercore, emerging as a key adviser in financial dealings like the General Motors bankruptcy. He kept his political connections, however, acting as an adviser for presidential aspirants John Kerry in 2004 and Hillary Clinton in 2008.
Speaking to his Tampa clients, Altman remained steadfast that the U.S. economy has turned a corner with few indications it will retreat.
In fact, his biggest fear on the horizon, he said, is of "an outbreak of fear" itself as Ebola paranoia grows. Altman doesn't believe Ebola will morph into a major health threat in America, but just a couple of cases could be enough to incite a fear of traveling, a fear of shopping at the mall, a fear of eating out, all of which would mushroom into very real economic consequences.
Other global concerns include the spread of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the showdown in Ukraine, and a widening economic malaise in Europe. But "the bright spot in this whole equation is the United States," Altman said.
His confidence is anchored by several transformative situations that have swept over the United States:
• The crime rate, an overarching concern and economic millstone in the '80s, has fallen 50 percent in the past 25 years.
• Teenage pregnancy had dropped 50 percent since the '70s, a particularly helpful economic trend since half of children born to teen moms spend their entire lives in poverty.
• In less than a decade, the United States has set itself on a path to energy independence with both oil production and natural gas production at all-time highs. He dubbed the energy revolution "one of the most profound events" in the country's history.
Progress aside, he said, the biggest problem facing the country may well be an environment of stagnant wages that is holding back the economic progress for many. Roughly 40 percent of Americans make $40,000 a year or less.
"We have a giant portion of citizens in this country who are falling behind," Altman said. Regardless of one's political beliefs, that's a problem. It means millions of citizens with no purchasing power.
"If the United States does not solve this problem," he said, "we're going to be a lesser country."
Contact Jeff Harrington at [email protected]om or (813) 226-3434 or. Follow @JeffMHarrington.