10 Dumbest Things on Wall Street in 2010 (Part 2)

(This is Part 2 of a two-part series on the 10 Dumbest Things on Wall Street in 2010. Click here for the 10 Dumbest Things on Wall Street in 2010, Part 1.)

Moron of the Year: Tony Hayward

For several months during the summer of 2010, then-BP (BP) CEO Tony Hayward was the Energizer Bunny of Idiocy. Indeed, without Hayward's copious -- and odious -- verbal gaffes, the 5 Dumbest Things on Wall Street column would, many weeks, have been the 4 Dumbest Things on Wall Street. Still, seven weeks after the Deepwater Horizon Drilling Explosion, and its resulting horrific Gulf of Mexico oil spill, Hayward delivered what would prove to be the epitaph on his executive gravestone....

Originally published on June 4 -- If only BP chief executive Tony Hayward could force a plug into his leaky oil well as firmly as he shoved his foot in his mouth, then this oil-spill nightmare would be over.

The embattled oil executive said in a Sunday interview that he would "like my life back," even as the massive oil spill continued to cause ecological havoc along the Gulf coast. Hayward later apologized in a post to BP America's Facebook page saying he made a "hurtful and thoughtless comment."

"When I read that recently, I was appalled," wrote Hayward.

You weren't the only one, dude. Eleven rig workers died on the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon drilling platform when it exploded on April 20, and you can bet their loved ones would give anything to get those lives back as well.

"Those words don't represent how I feel about this tragedy, and certainly don't represent the hearts of the people of BP -- many of whom live and work in the Gulf -- who are doing everything they can to make things right," said Hayward.

Look, we understand the pressure Hayward is under to fix this thing. We know it can't be easy on him.

But all these botched solutions have worn out our patience as well. So hopefully the world will understand what we mean when we tell Tony to "get a life."

TheStreet Says: You know who else wished they could "get a life?" Oil-soaked pelicans, egrets, loggerhead turtles... Gulf Coast business owners...

Fannie, Freddie and Other Words Beginning With 'F'

The demise of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae was less of an actual dumb thing, in and of itself, than a paragraph in the long, dumb history of capitalism. But in mid-June both finally succumbed, marking the closing of a chapter in the Great Recession....

Originally published on June 18 -- Make way everybody! The trillion-dollar gorillas are leaving the room.

The Federal Housing Finance Agency said Wednesday that Fannie Mae ( FNMA) and Freddie Mac ( FMCC) will delist their shares, now trading for well under a $1, from the New York Stock Exchange ( NYX). The FHA, which regulates the two government-sponsored mortgage purchasers, said it expects Fannie and Freddie to trade on the Over-the-Counter Bulletin Board, an electronic quotation service, beginning next month.

The move to the minor leagues was not altogether unexpected. NYSE rules require a company to take action or delist if its shares languish below a buck for 30 trading days.

Still, it's quite shocking to see companies that together own or guarantee almost 31 million home loans worth about $5.5 trillion get the boot. Or, to put it another way, you know things are bad when mega-losers like AIG ( AIG) and Citigroup ( C) are still hanging around while the two companies that control nearly half of all U.S. mortgages get escorted from the building.

Then again, at least AIG and Citigroup are operating under the pretense that they will repay Uncle Sam. That's certainly not the case with Fannie and Freddie, which have already sucked up nearly $150 billion in taxpayer funds and will likely request more bailout dollars down the road.

Come to think of it, it's almost poetic. They loosened their lending standards during the housing bubble and as a result are being forced from their home.

TheStreet Says: The NYSE foreclosed on Fannie and Freddie. How trippy is that?

One Very Bad Apple

In June, Apple (AAPL) unveiled the iPhone 4 -- and unwittingly unleashed "antennagate." And then, as is often case with corporate dumbness, the company's ham-handed response made matters far, far worse....

Originally published on July 16 -- Apple's new iPhone 4 may not be as bad as the company's infamous Newton, yet that is not stopping Consumer Reports from bonking Steve Jobs on the head.

Shares of Apple sank over 2% Tuesday even as the tech-heavy Nasdaq surged 2%, due to a troubling Consumer Reports review of the newest iPhone. The review, which otherwise spoke glowingly about the phone, concluded that "Apple needs to come up with a permanent -- and free -- fix for the antenna problem before we can recommend the iPhone 4."

The major malfunction with Apple's newly redesigned iPhone is a faulty antenna that gets knocked out when the phone is held a certain way. The problem has persisted since the phone's introduction last month, a rollout that had early adopters sleeping in the streets to be the first ones on their block with Apple's supposedly sublime smartphone.

Curiously, Apple seems unwilling to accept the fact that one of its gadgets has a problem at all. Like a parent who does not want to admit that his child is indeed imperfect, Apple initially blamed users for reception difficulties, telling them to hold the phone differently. Then, more recently, Apple changed its story and said its signal strength meter was faulty. At last check, Apple said it will hold a press conference this afternoon to announce an iPhone 4 fix.

Consumer Reports said a temporary solution is to simply apply duct tape to the iPhone. We say Apple CEO Steve Jobs would have a better chance at curing the company's ills by taking the duct tape off his ears and listening to his customers complaints.

TheStreet Says: Can you hear me now, Steve Jobs? No, this is not a Verizon (VZ) commercial. It's a disgruntled iPhone user.

What's That? The Flash Crash? You Wanted to Know What Caused the Flash Crash? Umm....

Perhaps you heard about a little thing called the "flash crash?" Perhaps it gave you pause? Well, apparently, the SEC did not share your concerns, as almost five months after the May crash, it had yet to offer at any legitimate explanation for it. All of which caused us to flash-crash our keyboard right into the SEC....

Originally published on Oct. 1 -- There's been a lot of talk about "fat fingers" this year, what with all the mysterious flash crashes bedeviling the best minds of the markets. This week, after the latest flash crash hit shares of Progress Energy ( PGN), investors may have reached the point where the only fat finger they're thinking about is their own middle finger, being raised in the face of the SEC and the exchanges.

There were actually two mysterious news items this week about Progress Energy. On Monday, more than 4,000 Progress Energy customers were left without power after a snake slithered into a switch and shorted the circuitry. In the curious case of the snake and the circuitry, Progress Energy restored service in about two hours.

Investors, on the other hand, are still left in the dark about the latest flash crash, when shares of Progress Energy slid from $44.50 to $4.57 in a millisecond early Monday afternoon, making the company's stock chart look like a Robert Downey Jr. EKG printout during a night of partying.

These days, the slithering is coming from the exchanges and market regulators. There was much fanfare about the new circuit breakers after the events of May 6, yet the Progress Energy "mini-flash crash" shows that it's the markets breaking down and the circuit breakers still malfunctioning. Even the Securities and Exchange Commission's preliminary report on the May 6 flash crash, released on Friday, offered few assurances that anybody knows exactly what happened.

According to the SEC, the whole thing may have been caused by a single trade. Apparently, a single trader, reportedly from Waddell & Reed Financial ( WDR), entered orders only to sell e-mini S&P 500 futures. The trader had a short futures position that represented on average 9% of the volume traded during that period. The trader sold on the way down and continued to do so even as the price level recovered. Still, that's only being cited as a possible cause.

It's not too much of a stretch to make this analogy: many people are afraid to fly, but few are afraid to fly because they doubt the control mechanisms of the air traffic control system. Many investors have their doubts about the latest biotech stock, but few are afraid to invest as a rule because they don't trust the markets to function effectively. Well, that's not the case anymore with the latest flash crash in shares of Progress Energy.

"I think it has reached the point where the public is so fed up that something has to be done," said Eric Hunsader of market research firm Nanex, who has become a go-to guru in the science of detecting suspicious trading patterns in the era of high frequency trading. "There's no doubt that manipulation is going on to an extent far greater than I've expected, and the exchanges need to dismiss it outright because any exchange that puts out enforcement loses that business to other exchanges," Hunsader said.

Of course, the talking points from the markets about high frequency trading is that it's made for a more efficient market -- except, of course, when the flash crashes are cratering shares, and exchanges like Nasdaq are having to decide on arbitrary trade-cancel policies. In the case of Progress Energy, it was any trade 15% below the National Best Bid and Offer (NBBO). Why 15%? Because Nasdaq decided on 15%. There is no formal exchange policy on what to do when trades need to be canceled because of a flash crash, and that's just one minor frustrating wrinkle in the growing market dysfunction.

For better or worse, the markets are electronic. Machine has conquered man, the battle's over, end of story. But that's not the issue. The average investor has already been forced to wave the white flag when it comes to a man on the trading floor versus an unthinking machine running algos. The problem is some investors are getting ready to wave the white flag about investing in general.

If Joe The Investor could just get a decent quote, the whole man versus machine thing wouldn't be a problem.

TheStreet Says: If you're an investor, get ready to use your fat middle finger when the stock drops from $100 to $1 in a millisecond, while the regulators and exchanges twiddle their thumbs.

Gap Loves New Logo Enough to Abandon It

In October, Gap (GPS) executed one of the most inept efforts at branding since the Omega-house initiation in "Animal House." With no apparent need to replace its iconic blue-box logo, Gap half-assedly tossed out a new one onto its website. And then, all heck broke loose....

Originally published on Oct. 8 -- Quick, quarantine your C-suites! Apparently, Pepsi's ( PEP) virulent strain of logo-killing mad-executive disease has spread to the offices of Gap ( GPS).

Last week, the once iconic and culturally relevant retailer quietly introduced a stunningly dull redesign of its logo to its Web site. No fanfare. No 80-foot billboards in Times Square. Not even a dashed-off press release filled with marketing drivel about how the new logo reflects man's constant drive to achieve universal harmony through ill-fitting jeans and multi-colored scarves. Hey, at least that would have showed they cared.

No, there was nothing. And in lieu of all that, within a day, the design community had pounced, with vitriol and mockery exploding on blogs and on Twitter. As Bobby Solomon, on art and design blog Kitesunenoir.com put it, "This is some shabby work.... There was a lot of brand equity in that big blue square and they didn't move far away enough from the source for this logo to even begin to feel new or exciting."

A lot of equity indeed. According to a study conducted by Interbrand, Gap is the 84th most-valuable brand in the world, valued at nearly $4 billion.

Then, with the backlash building, Gap decided to make everything worse by backtracking in the worst way possible. The company took to its Facebook page and Twitter and declared that it was "thrilled to see passionate debates about the logo unfolding!" (Uh, no debate here ... the logo just sucks....) "So much so, we're asking you to share your designs. We love our version," (read: "Oh my god, what the hell have we just done?!?") "but we'd like to see other ideas." (Read: "like ideas on how we can save our jobs; OMG, we are so fired.") "Stay tuned for details in the next few days on this crowd sourcing project."

See, this isn't a massive marketing gaffe. No, no, no. It's the start of a "crowd sourcing project." And one that was oh-so-cleverly never introduced as such. Gotcha! Oh, and Gap "loves" its new logo, but is totally willing to chuck it out the window should anyone else come up with something better. And for free, please.

By Thursday night, Gap brand president Marka Hansen had taken to The Huffington Post, of all places, to try to explain things.

"We chose this design as it's more contemporary and current," wrote Hansen. "It honors our heritage through the blue box while still taking it forward." Too bad most people thought this "honor" was a giant step backward.

On Monday, Oct. 11, Gap faced reality about its blunder.

"We've been listening to and watching all of the comments this past week," said Hansen in a press release. "We heard them say over and over again they are passionate about our blue box logo, and they want it back. So we've made the decision to do just that -- we will bring it back across all channels."

Hansen goes on to say that the royal "we" at Gap "learned a lot in this process. And we are clear that we did not go about this in the right way. We recognize that we missed the opportunity to engage with the online community. This wasn't the right project at the right time for crowd sourcing."

The bigger question is why does anyone who's been to business school, much less someone in charge of a brand like Gap, need to learn this lesson in the first place?

Look, tinkering with your logo, even online, is a sure-fire way to draw negative publicity -- just ask Tropicana! But doing so in such a half-assed way begs significant questioning of Gap's management. Would Coke "crowd source" a redesign of its script font, or Nike slap a smiley face on its Swoosh? So, Gap, maybe it's not the logo that's the problem here. Maybe the problem is you.

TheStreet Says: Turns out, there are plenty of good ideas out there. Perhaps Gap could take a half dozen of them into the fitting room?
This article was written by a staff member of TheStreet.

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