When Meredith Whitney talks -- about banks -- the market listens. Last week, Whitney was sounding alarms with a bearish outlook for the banking sector -- as if things weren't already tough enough for the big banks. Thursday brought a market rout that rolled into a weak Friday, and almost all financial stocks ended the week lower. The story became more interesting when famed hedge fund manager John Paulson of Paulson & Co. took on Whitney by making a big bet on the banking sector and, in particular, stating that Bank of America ( BAC) would double its share price in two years time.
(Could a pay-per-view steel cage match between Whitney and Paulson be in the works? Not likely, but a Street.com poll pitting the two against each other may be in the works, so stay tuned.) So just how bad was it for the big banks? Well, Citigroup ( C) ; Goldman Sachs ( GS) ; JPMorgan Chase ( JPM); and UBS ( UBS), were all down on Thursday and Friday. Paulson's call did help Bank of America eke out a 0.06% gain in Friday's session. Talk about the slow road to recovery. We wouldn't be surprised if Meredith Whitney had already taken cover in the bank-implosion shelter.
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It almost seems unfair, given the rout, to ask which of the banks will continue to be the worst of the bunch. But we did just that, asking, "Of the globe's biggest banks, which do you think is most likely to disappoint investors on the road to recovery?" In his recent book on the market meltdown, Andrew Ross Sorkin, who edits The New York Times' DealBook, made clear that Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit would be the last executive picked in a game of dodge ball played by Wall Street CEOs. The rest of the Masters of the Universe seem to snicker when they even hear the name "Pandit" and run away from calls and meetings with the Citi CEO as if he were the human embodiment of swine flu. In that case, at least our poll finally offers Pandit something he can win. With a little more than 50% of votes cast, survey takers expect Citigroup to be the biggest of the bank disappointments -- a distinction truly deserving of a $1 annual salary. The ignoble race for second place was relatively close, though John Paulson clearly did not vote. Bank of America edged out UBS, garnering 20.5% of bearish banking sector sentiment, as compared to 18.3% of bank naysayers who think UBS will assume the bank basement. It is no surprise then that Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan are judged relatively healthy by the survey audience, and almost equally healthy, we might add: only 5.7% of survey takers thought Goldman Sachs would disappoint the most, while a mere 4.7% voted JP Morgan worst-in-class. -- Reported by Eric Rosenbaum in New York Follow TheStreet.com on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook.