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I'm certainly not looking to tar and feather Wall Street. In fact, I've been known to go as far as sticking up for the bonuses that some of those folks take home.
However, I couldn't help but regurgitate a little of my breakfast when I read Dealbreaker's coverage of Merrill Lynch's latest boondoggle in Florida. It seems that Merrill -- which Dealbreaker jokingly refers to as Bank of Amerillwide due to Bank of America's (NYSE: BAC ) acquisitions of Merrill Lynch and Countrywide -- took 400-plus brokers to the Ritz Carlton in Orlando for some sun and golfing. Reportedly among the attendees is former Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozilo, casting his sinister orange glow on Florida's lush greens.
As a shareholder of Bank of Amerillwide -- both through direct share ownership and the piece that I've inherited as an American taxpayer -- I know that the firms that have received government cheese still need to get on with business. But come on, you'd think that the brouhaha that erupted over Wells Fargo's (NYSE: WFC ) (or Wells Wachargo if we stick with Dealbreaker's nomenclature) planned trip to Las Vegas would have rung some warning bells for Merrill's higher-ups.
Of course, I don't expect this to be the last time that we'll have a chance to gasp at some seemingly over-the-top trip that a TARP-taking bank plans. In a business where wooing clients and keeping employees fat and happy is paramount, we'll likely continue to see Wall Street bumble along, trying to figure out what's truly necessary to conduct business and what's holdover from the time when structured desks thought they could perform alchemy by turning bundles of subprime junk into AAA gold. While it looks like Merrill may be taking a devil-may-care attitude in deciding where the show must go on, Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS ) has jumped to the other end of the spectrum, paying Las Vegas' Mandalay Bay $600,000 to move its Technology and Internet Conference from Las Vegas to San Francisco -- without any clear benefit to the firm other than avoiding headlines that may pummel it for sending anybody to Las Vegas.
If you're wondering how an investor might benefit from all of this, the collective opinion of The Motley Fool's CAPS community seems to be to avoid these former financial highfliers altogether. Morgan Stanley (NYSE: MS ) has been given a two-star rating (out of five) by the community, whereas Goldman, B of A, and Wells Fargo all carry mediocre three-star ratings. It seems that CAPS members tend to prefer the financial institutions like Umpqua Holdings (Nasdaq: UMPQ ) , Charles Schwab (Nasdaq: SCHW ) , and The Bank of Nova Scotia (NYSE: BNS ) -- all of which seem to stay out of the headlines.
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