A Festivus for the Invest in Us -- It's Time for the Airing of Grievances

I got a lot of problems with some of you Wall Street people, and now you're going to hear about it!

Sean Williams
Sean Williams
Dec 23, 2015 at 7:58AM
Investment Planning

Image source: Flickr user Eva Marley.

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 celebrating 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 have a wrestling match with. Festivus ends when the head of the household is pinned.

Festivus the Foolish way
Despite being a fictitious holiday, Festivus' popularity arguably 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!

Martin Shkreli
How can you not have a grievance with the now-former CEO of privately held Turing Pharmaceuticals and KaloBios Pharmaceuticals, who raised the price of toxoplasmosis drug Daraprim (purchased by Turing in August) by nearly 5,500% overnight without changing its formulation or the manufacturing process? Were that not enough, Shkreli announced at a Forbes summit in December that his only regret was (drum roll) not raising the price even more. Shkreli's actions single-handedly created the push for prescription drug reform, and Daraprim has since been removed from the formulary of the nation's largest pharmacy-benefit manager, Express Scripts.

Image source: Flickr user PRSA-NY.

But there's a Festivus miracle to be had here, too. Shkreli was arrested last week on seven federal counts, including two counts of securities fraud, two counts of conspiracy to commit securities fraud, and three counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Shkreli is innocent until proven guilty, but let's just say that quite a large swath of America let out a big smile and cheer when Shkreli was removed from his Midtown Manhattan apartment in handcuffs. Shkreli could be facing up to 20 years in prison if he receives the maximum sentence. 

Patrick Mahaffy, CEO and co-founder of Clovis Oncology (NASDAQ:CLVS)
Sometimes CEOs make boneheaded moves, and Clovis Oncology's CEO, Patrick Mahaffy, made one for the ages in 2015.

Let me set the stage for you: Clovis and its shareholders were on cloud nine by midyear. Its lead drug, rociletinib, a therapy designed to treat non-small cell lung cancer patients with the EGFR 790M mutation, delivered a 60% overall response rate and 90% disease control rate in heavily pretreated patients with the EGFR 790M mutation in the midstage TIGER-X study. It looked well on its way to an approval in the U.S. and in Europe, and it boasted the breakthrough therapy designation in the United States.

Image source: Flickr user Hobvias Sudoneighm.

Then, the wheels fell off the wagon. The Food and Drug Administration requested additional data in mid-November for the 500 mg and 625 mg doses after inconsistencies arose between the overall response rate data. It turns out that that while filing with the breakthrough therapy designation and its new drug application, Clovis had been including immature responses (i.e., responses that hadn't been confirmed) in its data. After factoring out these non-responses, Clovis announced, at the request of the FDA, that rociletinib's 500 mg and 625 mg doses led to overall response rates of 28% and 34%, respectively. That's way beyond a whoops, and Clovis' management team presumably should have been more forthright with this data from the start. You can kiss any trust I had in this management team goodbye.

Adding salt to the wound, a competing drug from AstraZeneca, Tagrisso, for the 790M mutation, delivered a much higher response rate, and was just approved by the FDA.

Men's Wearhouse's (NYSE:TLRD) senior management
Here's a hint: you're not going to like the way this looks when I'm done with you!

After courting Jos. A. Bank for what seemed like an eternity, the Men's Wearhouse, known for its selection of reasonably priced suits and formal wear, agreed to buy Jos. A. Bank in March 2014. The combination was expected to improve Men's Wearhouse's share of the cost-conscious formal retail market, as well as improve purchasing power while lowering overhead costs.

Image source: Flickr user David Goehring.

However, after a year and a half the experiment is looking disastrous. In Men's Wearhouse's most recent quarterly report it failed to hit already lowered expectations, with comparable-store sales declining by 14.6% at Jos. A. Bank. The culprit? Men's Wearhouse made the decision to end Jos. A. Bank's trademark "buy one, get X free" sales, and in the process completely alienated its cost-conscious customer.

Sound familiar? It should, because it's the exact same thing J.C. Penney (NYSE:JCP) did a few years back before its same-store sales plunged by well over 30% on a year-over-year basis. J.C. Penney's then CEO, Ron Johnson, eventually was shown the door, and Penney's did bring back its signature discounts after it was pushed into the corner. Men's Wearhouse's management team has suggested that it'll let consumers dictate what happens -- so it, you know, may want to actually consider listening to them.

Image source: Volkswagen.

Senior leadership at Volkswagen (NASDAQOTH:VWAGY)
If you own a diesel-powered Volkswagen, you may have every reason to air your grievances this year, with the auto giant admitting in September that is essentially cheated on millions of emissions tests around the world. Software within the engine turned on only when emissions tests were under way, and were off at all other times, thus causing the car to emit greater amounts of pollutants than advertised. Worse yet, some Volkswagen executives admitted to knowing about the diesel deception a year ago, but let the practice continue.

Now that Volkswagen has made its bed, it gets to lie in it. The potential legal exposure for VW is enormous. In the U.S., violations of the Clean Air Act could lead to a fine of up to $18 billion. You can top this off with potential fines in other countries, recall costs, and potential class action or individual lawsuits. In the end it could be VW shareholders that wind up fuming.

The Federal Reserve
Unless you've been stuck in line at the movie theater to catch Star Wars: The Force Awakens for the past five days, you're probably well aware that the Federal Reserve decided to raise the federal funds rate by a quarter point to a range of 0.25% to 0.5% from 0% to 0.25%. However, the move by the Fed comes after more than two years of back and forth speculation and backpedaling that implies it's as lost as a deer in the headlights as to what to do with interest rates.

Fed chairperson Janet Yellen. Image source: Flickr user Day Donaldson.

In all fairness, heading the Federal Reserve Board of Governors is a thankless job that I wouldn't want. But, what took so long to raise rates is beyond me. Keeping lending rates at historic lows for roughly seven years boosted the income of the richest rich and created an investing environment that arguably encouraged excessive risk-taking. It also created a generation of debtors that have become reliant on low rates. Imagine what could happen to the housing market if consumers can't get a super-low mortgage rate.

Long story short: the Fed's on the naughty list this year.

What investing grievances do you have in 2015? Share them in the comments section below.