Roger Altman, Chairman of Evercore Partners Inc. (NYSE:EVR), spoke with Bloomberg TV’s Betty Liu today to discuss a number of topics including the situation in Ukraine, mergers and acquisitions in 2014, and the Moelis IPO.
On Moelis, Atlman said, “I don’t see any reason why this won’t be successful and why the public markets won’t be hospitable to Moelis…[the] timing is reasonably good.”
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*Putin’s move into Ukraine ‘out of weakness’
Russia’s cost for uncursion may not be high
Likes the Obama administration budget
Excessive regulation not biggest problem for us economy
Private equity purchases as ‘spotty’ this year
‘Big shift’ in total m&a captured by ind. Advisers
Moelis IPO reflects expectation M&A volume to rise
*Moelis IPO should be successful, timing is good
Will We See Merger Mania in 2014?
A Look at the Rarity of Bank Public Offerings
BETTY LIU: I want to bring in my guest host for this hour, Roger Altman. He’s a former Deputy Treasury Secretary under President Bill Clinton. And he’s also the Founder and Executive Chairman of Investment Bank, Evercore Partners. Also with us is Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin who serves on the Senate Budget Committee as rwell as the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. He joins us as well from Washington.
But Roger let’s start with you on this. As we just highlighted, some tough talk coming out from Secretary of State John Kerry. Does he have the firepower to follow through on this?
Evercore CEO Roger Altman: Well Betty I think this is going to take a while to play out. But let’s put it in perspective. First of all Putin’s move into Eastern Ukraine, particularly Crimea, is a move out of weakness, not a move out of strength. Because look back three months ago. Russia had reached agreement with the then Ukrainian leadership on a $15 billion rescue package–
Evercore CEO Roger Altman: Where Ukraine would reverse its previous commitment to the EU, align with Russia and in effect reconfirm Russia’s protectorate so to speak–
LIU: Exactly. Like an alliance.
Evercore CEO Roger Altman: That’s where we were three months ago. Then of course the Ukrainian leadership is overthrown in effect. Democracy in one form or another breaks out or a form of Democracy breaks out and Russia is way back on its heels and it’s previous agreement with Ukraine is blown up.
LIU: So you think it’s a desperate move by them?
Evercore CEO Roger Altman: I don’t know about the word desperate but it’s born out of weakness, that’s number one. That’s number one. Now I think Putin has made it clear already he doesn’t want to move into the Western part of the country because he knows that would bring a much stronger response from the US and from the West. So I don’t think that’s going happen, that’s number two.
So number three is the question of what sanctions, what costs, to use President Obama’s term, Putin is going to have to pay for this. And I don’t think it’s clear right now. Because we’re seeing various forms of equivocation from Europe. We’ve seen Germany indicate that it’s not in favor of some tough sanctions.
LIU: In a very difficult spot, yes.
Evercore CEO Roger Altman: Because of the economic and financial ties between Germany and Russia. So the question now which I think will take a while to play out is what are the costs which Russia will pay? And I don’t think it’s clear. And I don’t think it’s clear that they’ll be that high.
But are going to see Putin withdraw now from the Crimean region? From a military point of view? I think the answer is no. And again, putting this in broad perspective, the Crimea represents the one warm weather naval base, major naval base that Russia has. And from Russia’s point of view it’s a strategic asset of the highest importance.
Evercore CEO Roger Altman: So I don’t think Mr. Putin given the uncertainty of where Ukraine as a whole goes, and does Ukraine align with the West, is going to give that up. And I think that’s where it stands at the moment.
LIU: Let me bring in the Senator in this. Senator you were just listening to Roger Altman’s analysis, would you largely agree with it?
SENATOR RON JOHNSON: Good morning Betty. I’m not sure you take a look at what Russia did and call that a move of weakness. I realize that Russia’s not a strong economy and it’s certainly dependent on its oil exports and certainly kind of enjoys world chaos because it keeps the price of oil high.
But you know, I appreciate what the administration’s trying to do. I want to try and be unified here. I want politics to end at the water’s edge so that we can, you know–
LIU: But what bothers you?
SEN. JOHNSON: Definitely send the signal, well what we need to do is we actually need to act. Now I think we should act in measured fashion. I don’t want to escalate, I want to de-escalate, but Vladimir Putin has to pay a price for what he did in Crimea. We’ve got to take some action. Hopefully we can force him to withdraw from Crimea. We certainly don’t want him to advance any further.
And of course what Russia’s been doing is they have been putting pressure on all of those fledgling Democracies, their former client-states of the Soviet Union. And they’re going to continue to try and put pressure, trying to destabilize those regimes which is not good for the West. It’s not good for economic world order.
Evercore CEO Roger Altman: Well first, Putin’s move into Crimea of course was not a weak move, it was a military move. But the reasons for the move in my judgment were weakness.
LIU: You say are out of weakness.
Evercore CEO Roger Altman: Right.
Evercore CEO Roger Altman: And I think Senator Johnson and I agree. The question is now, what cost will Russia pay. It isn’t clear to me what that will be. And whether we can actually impose large costs on Russia. We have the tools if we wanted to use them. After all we could freeze Russian assets in Western banks or even just American banks and other steps which would have a very, very punitive effect. But I don’t think the United States wants to act alone.
LIU: Well let’s look at the aid package though that the US is helping put together with the Europeans. And Senator do you expect the aid package worth up to $15 billion, is that going to clear Congress? And if it does, do there need to be conditions placed on it?
SEN. JOHNSON: Well this is no time to be pennywise and pound foolish. What the administration has to do is make the case of why it’s important that Russia does not continue to proceed and gain greater influence in Ukraine. Part of the reason that they were gaining influence was because America, the European Union was kind of asleep at the switch. Just kind of assuming that Ukraine was going to join the Eastern Association.
SEN. JOHNSON: So those plans kind of collapsed. We have the opportunity to snatch victory out of the jaws of defeat. And so again, this is where it’s important that we act in a unified fashion both in America and with our European partners and make sure that we actually do snatch victory out of the jaws of defeat.
LIU: Let me just pivot for a moment from what’s going on in Ukraine. I want to get back to what’s going on in Washington with a subject that both of you are very well versed in, is the budget. We saw the White House propose their budget of almost $4 trillion yesterday. And Senator I know you’ve been critical, on the record, on and again saying the Senate is dysfunctional under Senator Harry Reid and you’ve said that the Democrats are unserious about true fiscal reform.
Was there anything in this new budget that gave you any sense that there could be some compromise here?
SEN. JOHNSON: I don’t see anything. It’s $1 trillion more in taxes, it’s increasing spending dramatically. It’s not adhering to the compromise budget deal that President Obama just signed a couple months ago.
And of course that’s been the big problem is we do the Budget Control Act, then people try to weasel out of the controls or the limits of that Act. They do a Budget Compromise and the first piece of legislation that falls on the floor of Senate violates that. We have to stop it with a Budget Point of Order.
And of course this President is doing nothing to address the 2/3 of the budget, all the transfer payments, all the entitlement programs that are on an unsustainable path.
SEN. JOHNSON: So I don’t see a whole lot we can compromise with here.
Evercore CEO Roger Altman: Well I think I happen to like the budget. But I think it’s relatively speaking a non-event. Because first there was a key agreement struck just two months ago between the House represented by Paul Ryan, the Senate represented by Patty Murray in terms of discretionary spending and the key items within the discretionary account. That was just agreed.
Evercore CEO Roger Altman: Second of all, this is a Congressional Election Year obviously. So I don’t think this budget, which I happen to like, nevertheless, I don’t think it’s going anywhere.
LIU: What do you like about it?
Evercore CEO Roger Altman: Well first of all the deficit is coming down considerably. And let’s not lose sight of that. The deficit I believe is–
LIU: But is that from fiscal reform Roger or is that really just from the economy growing though?
Evercore CEO Roger Altman: Well I think it’s both. I mean, the sequester, I don’t happen to think that’s a very intelligent approach to spending control, but the sequester just from a sheer deficit point of view–
LIU: Actually worked, yeah.
Evercore CEO Roger Altman: Has been effective. Second of all, we’ve had obviously increasing revenues because of the economic recovery and the composition of the recovery. So those two things and some other things have resulted in the deficit coming down pretty considerably. Next year I believe is projected at 3.1 percent of GDP, that’s way down, it was over 9.
Evercore CEO Roger Altman: And I think we should step back and recognize that that’s good progress. You can debate forever who’s responsible for it, but it’s good progress. Second of all, I think some of the initiatives the President is talking about, let’s just take infrastructure, are so vitally needed, and actually both sides agree that we need infrastructure, it’s just a question of, how do we pay for it?
But the budget isn’t going anywhere. Senator Johnson is right. This is an election year. We just had this Key Agreement two months ago.
Evercore CEO Roger Altman: This budget is just going to sit there. It’s not going to be acted on.
LIU: Yeah and to the Senator’s point, Senator, you know you were saying that you know it doesn’t address some of the big issues, which as you had mentioned entitlement spending, there were no big, no big numbers around cutting Social Security or any of those benefits. But as I go back to that same question though, was there any area though that you felt, there could be some agreement on?
SEN. JOHNSON: Well first of all nobody’s ever proposing cutting anything. We’re just trying to limit the rate of growth so we don’t expand our debt to the point where we hit a debt crisis. And you know, Mr. Altman’s correct, the reason the deficit is coming down is, even with the meager economic growth, we’ve increased revenue, the Federal government by more than $650 billion since the low point in 2009. That’s through economic growth.
So what we should be doing is we should be enacting pro-growth tax reform, regulatory reform. We should utilize our God-given natural energy resources. Those are things we could do to actually increase revenue to the Federal government. But what Congress should do right now is take that Budget Agreement; we should go through a very thoughtful process of appropriations where we start prioritizing the spending.
That’s what hasn’t happened. We haven’t passed an appropriation bill in the Senate in two years. Which just shows, it highlights the dysfunction of Senator Harry Reid’s Senate. We should really get down to work. We could actually do that between now and the election. That would be a good thing for the American people.
LIU: All right Senator hang on because I want to come back with you to talk more about the economy and about the jobs market. We’re going to be getting the ADP private employment report in just a few moments.
Senator Ron Johnson, Roger Altman staying with me as well.
LIU: We’re back with my guest host this hour, Roger Altman, the Chairman of the investment bank Evercore, and also former Deputy Treasury Secretary, as well as Republican Senator, Ron Johnson from Wisconsin. He’s on the Hill with us joining as well.
Roger, let me start with you again on this whole jobs issue. Because I know it’s a subject that really both of you have obviously studied very well. But you know, Mort Zuckerman, I believe you read his op-ed earlier this week.
Evercore CEO Roger Altman: I did.
LIU: In the “Journal.” This is what he writes about why he things jobs are not, the jobs recovery is not enough. He says, “Government is perpetually establishing economic policies and rules that business perceives as overregulation, dampening the willingness to invest.” Do you agree with that statement?
Evercore CEO Roger Altman: Not particularly. I don’t think that excess of regulation is one of the two or three biggest problems facing the US economy now. I mean at the margin you can debate any particular regulation and so forth. There’s been a huge increase obviously in regulation in the health care sector and in the banking sector in the last few years. But fundamentally he was right on the central point he made in the piece which was that–
Evercore CEO Roger Altman: And the key to restoring good quality middle class jobs, and in particular, I would add, the only way we’re going to turn around the declining living standards which Americans today are experiencing with median household income 7% below the pre-crisis peak and back to the level of the 1980s.
The only way we’re going to do that is improved education outcomes. Higher high school graduation rates and quality high school and higher college graduation rates. Remarkably, since about 2004, graduation rates at both the high school level and the college level have increased meaningfully in this country.
Evercore CEO Roger Altman: And it’s something that, it’s so crucial for us to keep going. And it’s a cumulative effect of 15 or 20 years or public school reform and other reforms which are producing this good impact. And it’s so important that we keep that going.
LIU: And it’s interesting, I’d love to talk more about education. Because I think that, you know, that and both sides would agree that we need to invest in education.
Evercore CEO Roger Altman: Let’s remember the federal role in education is minor.
Evercore CEO Roger Altman: Most education occurs and is paid for–
LIU: At the state level.
Evercore CEO Roger Altman: At the state and local level.
LIU: Absolutely. But Senator there’s one answer that Democrats have though immediately, an immediate answer they have to help raise the living standards of Americans. They say raise the minimum wage to $10.10 and you say no.
SEN. JOHNSON: Well it would reduce the number of jobs available to those people on the bottom of the economic ladder and it would deprive them of that bottom rung. But listen Betty this shouldn’t be this hard. I think the writer is absolutely right. It’s hard to overstate the harm the federal government’s policies, regulations, tax rates, does on people making capital investment decisions.
I did it for 31 years, I talk to business owners that started a business 30 years ago that tell me, Ron there’s no way I could start my business and grow it the way I did if I had to do it today. So the cumulative harm of decades of layer upon layer upon layer of government regulation. Of uncompetitive tax rates, you have to make America an attractive place for capital investment, business expansion, job creation. And we’re not doing that. And we’re certainly not doing it by demonizing businesses and demagoguing against success. We should celebrate success and incentive it.
LIU: Well I mean, and I’ve heard that too as well Roger to be fair. I’ve heard as well that it would be hard to start a business now than 30 years ago. Are there areas where we could roll back though some regulations?
Evercore CEO Roger Altman: Well first of all, the business formation rate in lots of big sectors of the United States is very high. If you go to Texas for example, the business formation rate is remarkable because of the energy revolution.
SEN. JOHNSON: Where taxes are low.
LIU: Well I was going to say, the tax rate though is low.
Evercore CEO Roger Altman: But that’s not the biggest reason that business formation in Texas and throughout much of the South and Southeast and Southwest is so high. That’s one factor perhaps, but it’s not the main factor. So first of all I don’t believe that business formation is weak and poor in the United States, number one.
Number two, maybe some people were demonizing success and demonizing business, but that’s not the way the American people feel about it. And that’s not the way most people feel about it. This country historically has celebrated entrepreneurship and innovation and success.
LIU: You don’t think there’s class warfare going on? You don’t think the 99% and the 1% and everybody, you’ve seen now some of these billionaires including Mort Zuckerman come out and try to defend themselves. They feel demonized.
Evercore CEO Roger Altman: OK I don’t like that debate much. But there’s new about that debate in American history. If you study for example, the history of populism in America, we’ve had moments of much greater populism, much greater anti-wealth, anti-success. If you think back for example to some of the comments that Theodore Roosevelt made, some of the comments that Franklin Roosevelt made. They make today’s debate look small.
So I don’t happen to like the debate, but it’s not a new debate, and it’s not the worst time we’ve ever had on this issue in the United States, far from it. This is rather the American way. Periodically we have this discussion.
I don’t think, most people in my view, don’t mind that there’s great success and a lot of wealth being created. What they’re focused on, as I mentioned earlier, is getting incomes, the fallen incomes reversed and beginning to create again, good quality middle class jobs. And if the 1% happen to be doing very well, that’s fine.
LIU: All right Roger we’re going to have to leave it there.
SEN. JOHNSON: Well Betty–
LIU: Go ahead.
SEN. JOHNSON: Betty take a look at Occupy Wall Street and who basically supported that movement at least rhetorically and that was the President, that was the Democrats. I mean this has, we have been demonized for success and it hasn’t been helpful. We have been over the decades, increased the layers of regulation, uncompetitive tax rates, it’s incredibly harmful.
The way you have a strong middle class is you have a robust economy and our weak, tepid growth over the last 4-1/2 years during this recovery, the opportunity costs of that lack of economic activity that we’ve realized because of that, is hard to make up. And the sooner we start incentivizing and celebrating success and actually make America an attractive place for business investment and expansion, the better.
Evercore CEO Roger Altman: I don’t think any, I don’t think even the Lone Ranger has spotted Occupy Wall Street in the last 2 or 3 years. But I’ll leave that there.
LIU: All right Roger, just stay with me. You’re with me throughout the hour. Senator, thank you so much. You go the last word. Senator Ron Johnson from Wisconsin.
SEN. JOHNSON: Have a great day.
LIU: Thank you so much, great to see you again as always.
LIU: Roger what’s the secret then of trying to get these deals? I mean for a bank like yours?
Evercore CEO Roger Altman: Well first of all, let’s respond a little bit to this. The sponsors, the financial sponsors, as I think is a little bit better term than private equity. Financial sponsors have been very active for a very long time including in the past year.
More of the activity has been on the sell side because prices have been high and they’ve been selling, as Leon Black said, everything that wasn’t nailed down. And very successfully so and they’ve done very well in that regard.
Evercore CEO Roger Altman: And that’s so they’ve been very, very active. Now the converse of that is that with prices high it’s difficult for them on the buy side. And you haven’t seen a lot of buy side activity by historical standards from the financial sponsors and I think it’s going to continue to be spotty this year in that regard.
But are they active? Of course they’re active. Sometimes they’re more active on the sell side as in this recent period. Sometimes on the buy side which is not going to be where most of the activity is. In terms of the broader transaction market, because obviously financial sponsors just represent a piece of it.
Evercore CEO Roger Altman: I think David is right, I think there is going to be a slow recovery in total transaction volume, total merger volume. But the real question underneath that is the United States has been relatively strong in the last couple of years. It’s been up 2013 over 2012, and 2012 over 2011. But the rest of the world has been so weak that the totals as a whole have been down.
So global M&A volume just in dollars was down in 2013 over 2012 and 2012 over 2011 even though the US was up. Now the US is the strongest market–
Evercore CEO Roger Altman: And a firm like ours is about 2/3s 1/3 US purchase off-shore. But nevertheless–
LIU: Where’s your sweet spot though for your firm? I mean where can you make some headway against some of the other–
Evercore CEO Roger Altman: Well one of the things that, one of the trends that’s occurred for now, quite a few years, and it’s reflected in the Moelis IPO filing which I guess you’ll talk about–
LIU: Which we’ll talk about in a moment, yeah.
Evercore CEO Roger Altman: Is the degree to which there’s been quite a shift in terms of total M&A fees captured by the independent firms like Evercore, like Moelis, like Centerview and some others, relative to the largest firms. So into the year 2000, I’m doing this from memory but I think I’m right, the independent firms had about 3% of the US M&A market. And last year they had about 20%.
So there’s been a very big shift. And of course there’s been a whole host of new or independent firms, not just in the United States but in London for example, which have been created. But this has been a big, big development.
LIU: David why is there this shift? Why has that shift taken place?
DAVID WELCH, REPORTER, “BLOOMERG BUSINESSWEEK”: Well in part you’ve seen some very good bankers leave for the smaller firms. Sometimes they leave for pay, you know, give me land and title sort of thing. But they bring their relationships with them. So banks like Roger’s, banks like Centerview–
LIU: Which we’ve seen Evercore–
WELCH: Yes we have. And we’ve seen them show up on some very big deals. You know Heinz was a huge deal last year. And you had the boutiques, Moelis and Centerview both had roles in that. And so they’re taking these relationships with them. They’re doing very well with it.
I think a lot of the bankers, some of them want to kind of just focus on deal making as opposed to you know being in meetings and lot of bureaucracy that comes with being in a larger bank. And maybe as they get later in their careers, I’m sure Roger could speak to this better than I can, they just want to do the deal rather than managing a group of bankers. They just want to deal with clients. And so they go to the smaller banks and you get more activity that way.
LIU: Dawn are you seeing any shifts at all this year possibly among the top three or do they seem pretty well entrenched in those positions?
DAWN KOPECKI: They seem to be pretty well entrenched in the positions. And when you look at the second tier banks, there’s always like some movement there. You know, when, as the bond market, you’re not going to see the pop in the bond market this year or next year like you did last year. Because interest rates are still at all-time lows.
So you’re going to see banks like JPMorgan maybe struggle a little bit. Bank of America also did very well in bonds and that helped move them to; they were at number four I believe this year. And so you’re going to see those banks struggle a little bit to make up that fee income in other areas. However bankers seem to think that they might be poised for, maybe not necessarily a big boom in M&A, but kind of a gradual reclaiming of that territory.
KOPECKI: Their overall fees were somewhere around $56 billion. That’s down from over $85 billion in 2007. So the banks are nowhere near that mark. But fees overall were up 4.5% this year and so you’re seeing a little bit of a recovery. And what they say the big issue is, is that CEOs and CFOs, the C-Suite? They’re starting to get a little more confident. And as they get more confident, they’re going to put that record cash they have on their balance sheet back to work. And so it’s gradual. No one wants to jump in full throttle. But you see a lot more deals being done.
LIU: All right Dawn, thank you so much, great to see you. Dawn Kopecki. Also David Welch, thank you so much for your reporting. And Roger Altman stays with me throughout the rest of the hour. By the way, be sure to check out Dawn and David’s stories in the most recent edition of “Bloomberg’s Markets” Magazine.
ERIK SCHATZKER: Is that right Roger?
Evercore CEO Roger Altman: Well that’s very, not really. That’s very widespread among private firms.
SCHATZKER: Yes, oh yes, of course.
Evercore CEO Roger Altman: It’s very widespread among some of the largest hedge funds.
SCHATZKER: But not on a sell side firm.
Evercore CEO Roger Altman: Well you mean an advisory firm?
Evercore CEO Roger Altman: Well, I just think that approach is not uncommon whatsoever in Wall Street. And–
SCHATZKER: So the trail for Ken has been blazed by private equity firms for example?
Evercore CEO Roger Altman: Sure. Lots and lots of private equity firms have even today, situations where the founders have all the key legal powers, legal rights. So nothing terribly new about that.
LIU: But you’re saying for a public firm it is?
SCHATZKER: It’s not like Greenhill, it’s not like Evercore, it’s not like Lazard, it’s not like Goldman Sachs, it’s not like Morgan Stanley and the list goes on.
Evercore CEO Roger Altman: That’s true, but if you look at Wall Street as a whole, it’s not uncommon.
SCHATZKER: Do you wish in retrospect that had the market allowed it, been interested in it, that you had structured Evercore that way?
Evercore CEO Roger Altman: No, not at all. Everyone has their own view about what type of culture they want. I have a lot of respect for Ken Moelis. And I hope this IPO is successful and I think it will be.
LIU: What do you think that says though about the fact that, and I’m asking both of you, what does it say that Ken Moelis has decided now is the time to bring is firm public?
Evercore CEO Roger Altman: Well I think it just says a bit about what we were just talking about in the earlier segment. There’s an expectation, we’ll see if it materializes that transaction volume as a whole is going to improve. So since it’s an advisory firm, you’re taking yourself public on an anticipated upswing or the perception of an upswing. And that’s the time one wants to do this type of thing.
LIU: You want to grab it while they’re hot.
SCHATZKER: See here the last wave of IPOs on Wall Street was during the last merger boom. Greenhill, Evercore for example.
LIU: 2006 for you.
Evercore CEO Roger Altman: In our case 2006.
Evercore CEO Roger Altman: Right.
LIU: Well why did you, I mean aside from those conditions Roger, but at the time, take us back to that time period. Why did you decide to make that decision? To go public with your firm though? What was the thinking behind it?
Evercore CEO Roger Altman: Well we wanted to expand a lot faster than we had been, in the intervening years we have. And we thought that the, and I think it’s been proved correct, we thought that the availability of a public currency would facilitate recruiting and indeed it has. Today if you go to recruit someone quite senior people have large, large amounts of deferred compensation and deferred equity in particular. And how do you address that? You have to in some form or other replace it. And if you don’t have a public equity it’s not so easy. Of course you can use cash but there’s limits on that.
Evercore CEO Roger Altman: So number one, to help recruit; number two to spread the firm’s brand and that’s been good in our case. And overall it’s been successful. But it’s not for everybody.
Evercore CEO Roger Altman: If someone said, should everybody go public? I’d say no. It’s just a question of what your own ambitions are and your own, you know, philosophy is.
SCHATZKER: Do you think that Evercore or perhaps Greenhill provides a good model for what Moelis & Company will be like as a public firm? One of the interesting things about this filing is that Ken is taking only the Advisory portion of his firm public. And unlike Evercore, is holding back the Asset Management part. All of Evercore, so far as I know is a public company isn’t that right?
Evercore CEO Roger Altman: Yes, that’s correct. Well Lazard did a version of that though. Lazard held back his Capital Markets business right when it went public. I don’t see any reason, as I said, why this won’t be successful and why the public markets won’t be hospitable to Moelis. They’ve been certainly been hospitable to Evercore and in general to Greenhill.
LIU: And I believe he’s priced, correct me if I’m wrong, but it’s about, you know in terms of the value of it, is about the same as–
SCHATZKER: Well we’re going to find out right? If the market is generous it will give Moelis & Company a valuation like Evercores–
Evercore CEO Roger Altman: In general at the moment, investors like the independent firm model. In general. So I think his timing is reasonably good.