If you need any proof that what we watch on television helps shape our values, look no further than Festivus, the fictitious holiday conceived by popular comedy show Seinfeld in 1997.
Designed as an alternative to the commercialization of Christmas, viewers are led to believe that Frank Costanza created the Festivus holiday, which is now celebrated annually on Dec. 23rd. Customary components of Festivus include a plain aluminum pole (since Frank found tinsel distracting), a Festivus dinner, the airing of grievances which allows each person the opportunity to discuss how everyone else has disappointed them over the past year, and the feats of strength, which is the culmination of Festivus and involves the head of the household selecting someone to wrestle. Festivus ends when the head of the household is pinned.
Festivus the Foolish way
Despite being a fictitious holiday, Festivus' popularity continues to grow. For those of you looking to see a shiny aluminum pole, eat a succulent Festivus dinner, or witness a Foolish wrestling match today, I'm sorry to disappoint you. However, I am going to celebrate Festivus the best way I know how: with the traditional airing of grievances.
I got a lot of problems with some of you Wall Street folk, and now you're going to hear about it!
Every single executive at Valeant Pharmaceuticals
In my best Frank Costanza voice, "Papa, your company stinks!" Embattled drugmaker Valeant Pharmaceuticals (NYSE:BHC) is among the years' worst performers, falling 86% year-to-date, and 94% since hitting an all-time high during the summer of 2015.
Valeant has a laundry list of issues, but they primarily boil down to three critical problems. First, the company is buried under $30.4 billion in debt, which is mainly a result of its buy first, ask questions later M&A mentality of the past couple of years. Secondly, it's dealing with a number of legal issues, including a now-former executive, Gary Tanner, being charged with accounting fraud after he and the CEO of drug distributor Philidor Rx Services allegedly formed an agreement to steer an inordinate amount of business to Philidor in exchange for Tanner receiving cash kickbacks. Finally, brand-image damage and reduced pricing power have hurt many of the company's mature pharmaceutical products, causing its sales to plunge.
Perhaps worst of all for Valeant and its shareholders is that there's no easy solution. CEO Joseph Papa and his management team understand that assets need to be divested to chip away at the company's debt load, but there's no easy way to do so. Valeant could try to sell non-core assets, but that takes time and there have been few takers -- its peers are unwilling to pay a premium while Valeant is in trouble. Valeant could also sell its core assets and make a dent in its debt, but it'd essentially be giving up all of its growth in the process.
What I want to know is how Valeant's prior management team didn't see that loading up on older assets and piling on debt wasn't the best idea.
John Stumpf -- now-former CEO of Wells Fargo
Usually known as the steadiest of America's large money center banks, Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC) drew the wrong kind of attention in September when it agreed to a $185 million fine from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the largest such fine ever doled out by the CFPB. Why, you ask? It came to the attention of the CFPB that Wells Fargo employees, in an effort to meet cross-selling goals at the company's branches, had opened roughly 2 million fraudulent accounts without the consent of customers. Some 5,300 employees were fired over the course of five years as a result.
To start with, as pointed out by my Foolish colleague John Maxfield, fraudulent activity wasn't always the fault of the employee. If employees didn't go along with the fraudulent plan, they were simply shown the door. Making matters worse, they were fired for not performing their job, which could kill their chances of getting another banking job altogether.
Ultimately, it's former CEO John Stumpf who deserves the blame. When testifying in front of Congress, Stumpf missed his opportunity to take blame for his company's mistake and rectify the situation. Instead, he initially declined calls to step aside as CEO, only doing so after walking away with more than $100 million in vested stock and a 401(k) and pension worth north of $24 million.
What I'd like to know is how Stumpf was unaware of what was going on for over five years -- or if he knew, why nothing was done. It's sort of hard to sweep the firing of more than 5,000 employees under the rug.
The Federal Reserve
When the year began, rumblings on the Street and chatter from the Fed had the regulatory body on track to raise rates four times in 2016. Yet here we are at the end of the year, and the Fed only raised the benchmark rate one time.
While keeping interest rates near historic lows for eight years has been great news for the consumer and homebuyers, it's also completely spoiled the consumer and homebuyer to the point that raising rates now could have a hugely negative impact on the U.S. economy. Mortgage refinancing has dropped off 12% year-over-year according to the Mortgage Bankers Association using same-week comparisons, while mortgage applications to purchase new homes fell 3%. Rapid increases in interest rates have previously stymied mortgage originations, and a dovish Fed that waited too long to begin raising rates may wind up the victim of finger-pointing yet again in 2017 if the housing industry or U.S. economy stumbles.
Now, who wants to wrestle?