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The Five Dumbest Things on Wall Street This Week

3. Citi on the Dock of the Bay

Gosh, we're getting old. We've been around so long that we're witnessing not only the Before and After of major mergers, but the Before, the After and the After-the-After, when things go back the way they were Before.

Case in point: Monday's announcement that Citigroup (C) is selling its Travelers Life and Annuity unit to MetLife (MET).

Why, it was nearly seven years ago that the company then known as Citicorp announced its plans to merge with the financial services conglomerate known as Travelers Group, in a deal valued by The Hartford Courant at $37.3 billion.

But here, Citigroup -- which in 2002 sold off Travelers Property Casualty --is selling off the last vestige of the Travelers insurance business.

This led to a burning question: What happens to the red umbrella?

We're referring of course, to the Travelers logo -- the icon of protection (the equivalent of Allstate's "good hands") that served as Travelers' symbolic representation for years and years.

But while the red umbrella is visually synonymous with Travelers, the situation has gotten sticky in recent years. For instance, the umbrella is clearly referred to in Citigroup's consumer logo, in the form of a red arc over an umbrella-handle-resembling "t."

So we asked a Citigroup spokeswoman what would happen to the umbrella after the Travelers sale. "We'll be keeping it," she said.

"How can you?" we protested. "It's closely associated with Travelers."

"It's closely associated with Citigroup," she countered.

We disagree -- as would, we believe, nearly anyone born before 1998. You can't reassign an icon just like that.

But, hey. We suppose if we spent $37.3 billion on a merger, we, too, would want to walk away with a souvenir umbrella.

4. I'm With Stupid

So, now that the Richard Scrushy and the Bernie Ebbers trials are under way, we get to see the I'm Stupid defense in all its glory.

Both of these men, you see, stand accused of participating in conspiracies to cook the books at the companies they used to head -- Ebbers when he was atop WorldCom (now MCI (MCIP)) and Scrushy at HealthSouth.

Actually, to say each of these guys "used to head" a particular company isn't precise. Rather, Scrushy and Ebbers built their respective companies from scratch. Each ran his company for nearly two decades. Each was nearly synonymous with the company he ran.

See No EBITDA ...
... hear no GAAP

And now each is saying he had no idea that bunches of executives passed in the halls each day were cooking the books quarter after quarter.

The implied stupidity is twofold. Not only do Ebbers and Scrushy separately contend they had no idea that the wool was being pulled over their eyes, but also the men say they had no idea that their companies regularly hired crooks who -- in contrast to them, the leaders of their companies -- had no moral compass and were so easily tempted into a life of crime.

To which we ask this question: If these guys were that stupid, how did they end up building their empires from scratch in the first place?

We eagerly await the rest of the trials for an answer.

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