The Motley Fool is celebrating the Banksgiving season with this tongue-in-cheek series skewering the worst banking offenses. Check it all out by clicking here.
With Thanksgiving upon us, it's hard not to have visions of delectable turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes dancing through our heads. But when it comes to Banksgiving Day, we've got turkeys of an entirely different feather on our minds.
There have been a lot of folks involved in bringing us to the unenviable economic position that we're in. I'm going to lay out the case for five of them below, then you can vote for the true Banksgiving Day turkey in the poll that follows.
To start with, as chairman of the Federal Reserve, Bernanke was a key player in the bailout of the U.S. financial system. That bailout may have saved the system for the time being, but it also seems to have fanned the flames of risky behavior among finance companies.
And speaking of risky behavior, the Federal Reserve has kept its key lending rate near zero, which is allowing newly dubbed "banks" like Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS ) and Morgan Stanley (NYSE: MS ) access to free funds for what are essentially massive trading operations.
And it's still unclear exactly what part Bernanke played in the jamming together of Merrill Lynch and Bank of America (NYSE: BAC ) . Did he take a page out of the Gestapo's book to force Ken Lewis to move ahead? We may never know for sure.
Financial crisis? Looking at the bottom line, it seemed like Goldman Sachs was -- and still is -- prospering even as its competitors were heading for the great trading gig in the sky. And so it would seem that we'd have little room to criticize the company's CEO.
But looks can be deceiving. Recently, TARP's inspector general suggested that Goldman was full of something other than honesty when it said that a failure of AIG (NYSE: AIG ) wouldn't affect its bottom line. Meanwhile, it has been shown that the company's slogan -- "our client's interest always comes first" -- may be a bunch of hot air, as the company freely bet against the mortgage market even as it sold mortgage-backed products to its clients.
Today, though Blankfein suggests that his company is doing "God's work," it has become the frightening poster child for risky operations and banking excesses.
At the other end of the spectrum from Goldman Sachs, we've got good ol' Average Joe. Whether he was running up his credit cards with reckless abandon or leveraging himself to the eyeballs trying to house-flip his way to kingly riches, Joe played a big hand in bringing us to the brink of crisis.
There are a lot of reasons for Joe to be more sober today, including an unemployment rate of more than 10%, a 401(k) with a big hole in it, and a housing market in tatters. But has Joe really learned from all of this? Will he be able to resist the next get-rich-quick craze that sparks up? Or will he greet the other side of the recession with a "Whew! Glad that's over!" and whip the Visa (NYSE: V ) card right back out of its holster?
When it comes to the financial bailout, AIG was the mess to end all messes. Nearly $70 billion of bailout money has gone to AIG at this point, outpacing Fannie Mae (NYSE: FNM ) , Freddie Mac, and General Motors by a good margin.
While Benmosche wasn't responsible for AIG's downfall, he hasn't exactly dealt with the company's 80% owner (Uncle Sam) with grace. Early in his tenure at AIG, he drew a good deal of attention to himself by saying that New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo "doesn't deserve to be in government" and referring to the folks in Washington as "crazies."
More recently, Benmosche threw a temper tantrum over pay restrictions from Obama's pay czar and threatened to jump ship. While he quickly did a 180 and claimed he's committed to staying at AIG, there seems to be a pretty good argument for the turkey title here.
Despite needing $45 billion of bailout money and billions more in toxic loan backstops, Citigroup (NYSE: C ) looks great today. That is, if you look at it the right way. CEO Vikram Pandit and the rest of the management team have split the company up, cordoning off the nastiest parts of the bank into what it calls "Citi Holdings," while putting everything that appears functional into "Citicorp."
Pandit now faces the daunting task of managing the unraveling of Citi Holdings while making sure Citicorp is on solid footing, all while dealing with the shifting demands of the government -- which, by the way, owns a third of the bank. When I think about the fact that Pandit is doing all of this for a 2009 salary of $1, I can't help but picture poultry.
So what do you think? Who is the biggest Banksgiving Day turkey? Place your vote below, then let everyone know why by visiting the comments section.
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