And those proverbial pennies will keep piling up in 2011. Systematic risk to Europe's financial system remains a marquee issue headed into 2011. Reports of the impending death of the European Union are -- if a little sensationalistic -- certainly not impossible to imagine given the dastardly deeds of the European budget minders. In the good ole US of A rhetoric, it's easy to "hate" the French and their snobby nature, and even easier to make fun of Germans for their seeming lack of humor. Yet when it comes to truly, deeply, despising Europe for sound investment reasons, there's actually a basis for imagining the euro as an evil genius on his remote island -- if not with the shine of a bald-headed villain, having the metallic sheen of a coin and the mental corrosion of a 1972 penny. The euro is looking up at his multiple video screen array within his cave compound -- Greeks protesting in streets on fire, another painful meeting of the International Monetary Fund, German chancellor Angela Merkel trying to get all the indebted kids in the sandbox to play well with others -- and the euro takes glee in the sights of 2010 chaos, salivating as his dream of sheer anarchy being loosed upon the world verges closer to reality.
Of course, the fact that the army of unfeeling robo-signers are actually flesh-and-blood people only makes it that much more an act of villainy that they acted like robots in piling high the mass grave of foreclosures. Time once gave Hitler the annual honor, and would it be going too far in this case to compare the robo-signers to those concentration camp guards who were "simply following orders" and didn't even really know what was going on? Of course that's going too far, but it's not going too far to contend that the homeowner holocaust is far from done, and 2011 may be an even bigger year in foreclosures than this year, and even if the robo-signer is only a cog in the malfunctioning real estate machine, we're nominating it as poster-child -- or, we should say poster-army, for the unthinking bureaucrats short-circuiting the housing market for yet another year.
However, it's not the living and breathing expert network investigators or the robo-signers who best represent the increasingly impersonal nature of all things financial, and the mechanical villainy that underlies it all. It's an air-conditioned room of computer servers in Stamford, Connecticut -- and not even the hedge fund manager's mansion -- that many frustrated investors point the finger at when opting to keep their money under the mattress. It's the fact that a conspiracy theory even exists among investors that pins all the market blame on an unthinking machine that really shows how divided the investment world was in 2010 between the haves and have nots.
Yet regardless of the annals of legal history, we'll always have the Paris native's own words to really remember what went down when Tourre was lining up the beady beads of his own personal, deceptive, mortgage market abacus. "The whole building is about to collapse anytime now.... Only potential survivor, the fabulous Fab ... standing in the middle of all these complex, highly leveraged, exotic trades he created without necessarily understanding all of the implications of those monstrosities
What about the fact that Obama's team oversaw the rebirth of General Motors ( GM) and the biggest U.S. initial public offering of 2010? None of it changes the fact that Obama wasn't born in the U.S. and remains committed to destroying the very principles of a free market economy. Can you sense that we are a little anti the anti-business rhetoric that too easily is applied to any democratic President? As we've said before, a case can be made that President Obama has acted like the best Republican president the Republicans never had. This isn't to say Main Street will agree with this pushback against the Glenn Beck rhetoric. To paraphrase the most sympathetic news source covering President Obama's efforts to manage a messed up economy: We report. You decide. Or in other words, we report (with a heavy dose of sarcasm), yet when it comes to choosing the biggest market villain of 2010, you decide, you knee-jerk free-market Obama-haters fighting the good fight of protecting the USA from socialism.
Bernanke even took to 60 Minutes to curry some favor with the public, however, he just ended up putting his foot in his mouth with the comment that he was 100% certain that the Fed could manage inflation and act quickly to head off any potential problems stemming from another round of quantitative easing. If there is one thing that Americans are certain of after the recession it's that when push comes to shove, the economic powers that be don't have dominion over anything. It's no coincidence that in the year of Bernanke's living dangerously with QE2, and a veritable revolt in many corners of the economic world -- even within the Fed -- a revolt about the dangers of another short-term Fed buying spree being yet another form of wrong-headed government intervention in the markets, Bernanke's arch nemesis, Texas congressman Ron Paul, came into control of the House committee overseeing the Fed, the Domestic Monetary Policy Subcommittee. With Ron Paul and his amassed rhetorical weapons of Fed destruction having their moment under the Capitol Hill sun, it would be hard to not include Bernanke among the nominees for Biggest Market Villain in 2010. Yet an unthinking entity incapable of hate like a high-frequency trading machine or robo-signer could even come up with this nomination year in, year-out. It's fair to say that even with a socialist in the White House, when it comes to the public sector market villains, Bernanke is Goldman.
The energy sector has rebounded strongly to end the year, as crude's move up has people talking of an oil barrel at $100 in 2011, and BP shares recovered along with the entire sector, with many of the oil majors ending the year at 52-week highs. For one year, at least, Tony Hayward came in for more abuse than Goldman's Lloyd Blankfein, or President Obama, or Ben Bernanke, no easy feat. From "I would like my life back," to "a guesstimate is just a guesstimate" and the infamous yachting excursion that Hayward took while oil still gushed into the Gulf of Mexico, the former BP CEO had a knack for making all the wrong decisions in crisis management. It's likely that Hayward and BP's decisions during the oil spill will be studied for years to come by crisis management experts working with the biggest global corporations and ultimately amassed in one huge file called "How not to proceed when the (insert Goldman Abacus deal email word variation here) hits the fan." Hayward's mismanagement may have not impacted Time's 2006 winner personally, "you." The BP oil spill may not have devastated the entire 1988 Time winner, the planet earth, but it does continue to wreak havoc on a big swatch of U.S. soil, waters, wildlife, etc., and an entire region's economy, and the final price tag and environmental impacts are still anybody's guess, or should we say anybody's guesstimate. BP will have its day, many of them, in court, but you can pass your judgment on BP and Hayward well before then.