TAMPA — Charles R. Schwab, a septuagenarian whose name has become synonymous with personal investing, has a simple piece of election advice for seniors worried about their portfolios: Vote Romney.
Seniors have been unable to grow their savings in traditional vehicles like CDs and savings accounts while interest rates have stayed near zero percent during Obama's first term, he said.
"We are being — I hate to use this word — screwed, but we, as seniors, are really taking the brunt of this," Schwab, 75, said during a campaign trip through Tampa on Wednesday.
"Unless we get growth going, the interest rate will never climb to what it was just four or five years ago. … They better vote Romney, otherwise we're not getting out of this pickle."
The billionaire founder of Charles Schwab & Co. is a longtime Republican, but he said this is the first time he's actively promoted a presidential candidate, let alone go on a road tour while also airing his anti-Obama views this week on Fox News and in an editorial in USA Today.
Schwab's swing through Florida was touted as the "Romney/Ryan Stronger Middle Class Bus Tour" — and he was joined by a couple of local business owners during his Wednesday morning speech at a restaurant in downtown Tampa's Channelside district.
In a brief interview and during his address to about 40 local business owners and Republican campaign staffers, Schwab repeatedly returned to the theme of how slow growth impacts both retirees and future generations. Aides distributed a one-page newsletter detailing his concern, which was headlined: Seniors Alert.
Schwab said he's worried about his 12 grandchildren. If Obama is re-elected, "I don't think they'll have a real chance in the future," he said. "This present administration has completely abdicated its responsibility for the growth of this country. … The last four years have been a disaster."
In talking about struggling investors, Schwab did not mention how the stock market has rebounded strongly from its recessionary lows. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, for instance, has more than doubled from hovering near 6,500 just after Obama took office in early 2009 to pass the 13,500 mark.
The Obama campaign has repeatedly stressed that the economy lost nearly 800,000 jobs the month that he came into office in 2009 and has been growing for more than two years, up 5 million jobs over the past 30 months.
An Obama spokesman could not be reached Wednesday for comment. However, there is sentiment of a rebounding economy even within Schwab's organization.
In an online commentary Tuesday, Schwab chief investment strategist Liz Ann Sonders wrote that the latest U.S. soft patch appears to be ending, the leading economic indicators in the U.S. look better than those either in Europe or China, housing and retail sales are improving, and consumers are less stressed out. "Many U.S. economic readings are again suggesting notable signs of life," she wrote.
Among other comments during the event, Schwab said:
• Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's policies have hurt investors by keeping interest rates too low. "He has no clue," he said. "He's never run a business like you and I have done."
• He thought Obama came back stronger in the second presidential debate Tuesday night, but still gave the nod to Romney, saying the president was not as specific about his plans.
• Obama appears unconcerned about the middle class. "He doesn't care. … I don't think he understands what caring means."
Alan Wiessner, CEO of Integra Business Systems, told the gathering his Safety Harbor firm of 38 employees has been growing at 20 percent annually. But Wiessner insisted "the economy is holding us back quite a bit" and he would hire even more people if not for concerns over tax policies and the health care overhaul.
"The tax situation is very much a concern for me," Wiessner said, noting he files his business return as ordinary income and pours half his income back into the company. "I'm not rich, and this class warfare has been very disturbing," he added.