Halloween is right around the corner, and while most of us are no longer scared of ghosts or goblins, a zombie financial institution or a walking time-bomb of a bank would likely give most investors the creeps.
While the banking and finance industry has made some great strides since 2009, that doesn't necessarily mean that we can sleep soundly with just any financial company in our portfolio. I asked a few of our top banking and finance writers which stocks are scaring them now.
So Fools, what's got you spooked?
Robert "Guru of Gore" Eberhard
This is a tough one! My go-to answer -- mortgage REITs -- have been helped out by the monetary policy of the Federal Reserve in the past few months. With interest rates slated to remain low in the short term, companies like Annaly Capital (NYSE:NLY) and Chimera Investment (NYSE:CIM) will continue to reap the benefit from larger interest spreads and therefore don't scare me quite as much.
I would have to say I am more scared about Citigroup (NYSE:C) than any other financial company out there right now. The resignation of Vikram Pandit was the exclamation point on his sad tenure at the megabank. I am willing to give new CEO Michael Corbat the benefit of the doubt before lumping him with the bank's performance over the past, but he has quite the uphill battle in turning around this banking laggard.
John "Terror to the Max" Maxfield
It's a testament to how far the financial industry has come over the last five years that I had to sit down and actually think about which banks scares me the most. That being said, I've boiled it down to one category and two specific institutions.
First, only a bona fide gambling addict would buy stock in a European bank headquartered in, say, Greece. The National Bank of Greece (NYSE: NBG) comes to mind.
Second, you'd have to be either a rocket scientist or certifiably insane to grasp Citigroup's risk profile. I'm obviously no rocket scientist, and though my wife may beg to differ, I've at least never been certified as insane.
My vote for scariest of all goes to AIG (NYSE:AIG), whose spectacular near-demise during the financial crisis spurred the most complicated bailout plan in U.S. history. Now that almost all of the Maiden Lane toxic-securities portfolios have been retired -- at a profit of $9.4 billion -- the whole shebang is being looked upon as a sort of victory.
Not that it didn't work out well for all concerned. The government did a fine job of cleaning up that mess, and making a little cash for taxpayers to boot. But, by painting AIG -- the poster child for "too big to fail," really -- as a sort of success story really does cement the notion that, despite all the trials and tribulations involved, bailouts are a workable solution to such crises. Why work on prevention when the cure works so well?
Just as disturbing is AIG boss Robert Benmosche's attitude toward the entire incident. This guy has come right out and said that the positive outcome is almost entirely due to the efforts of his company, and that everyone, especially the feds, should thank AIG for its herculean efforts. A lesson learned? I don't think so.
Fool contributor Matt Koppenheffer owns shares of Bank of America. The Motley Fool owns shares of American International Group, Bank of America, Citigroup, Annaly Capital Management, and Wells Fargo and has the following options: long JAN 2014 $25.00 calls on American International Group. Motley Fool newsletter services recommend American International Group and Wells Fargo. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.