The broad market is managing to post gains in 2012, with the S&P 500 Stock Index up more than 12% and the Barclays Capital US Aggregate Bond Index up more than 4% as of December 27. These results come, of course, without any solution in Washington to the "fiscal cliff" issues that will drive up taxes and cut government spending and therefore hurt the broad economy. So there is plenty of risk for investors currently in the markets.
But those positive returns don't mean 2012 was a banner year for Wall Street. Hardly. We took a look back at the year's past events, and there was plenty of embarrassment for the titans of finance as well as lawmakers in Washington, both groups who fail over and over again to put mom and pop investors first.
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Indeed, both Wall Street and Washington created plenty of shameful episodes in 2012, with the worst being the May initial public offering of Facebook.
Remember that dud of an IPO? As we said at the time, this was supposed to be the little guy's chance of a lifetime to catch a hold of a technology stock that supposedly had boundless opportunities for growth. The problem was,Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, etc., gave its retail clients access to Facebook shares only after its rich and powerful institutional clients saw the company's books and then bolted for the door.
Instead of Wall Street helping create wealth for the small investor, the Street dumped an over-hyped security in the little guy's lap. So much for the Street taking care of all its mom and pop clients.
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And then there was a series of unseemly events stemming from the mightiest financial institutions in the land, JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs.
JPMorgan admitted in May that it had a London Whale problem that cost its shareholders $2 billion in losses. That trader, the so-called London Whale, had been compensated $40 million for his work at the bank, and was entitled to keep that tidy sum despite the damage it cost the bank and its shareholders.
And in March, Goldman Sachs woke up one day in March to find its name and reputation seriously damaged on the Op-Ed page of the New York Times by a former employee. That's when an ex-Goldman exec called the current environment at the investment bank "toxic and destructive."
These three telling examples, Facebook, JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs, demonstrate an entrenched Wall Street culture that neglects and takes advantage of its customers and always, and we mean always, will put its own interests first. In 2012, Wall Street took care of itself first, as it always does, and then gave crumbs to the client.
As we noted at the top of this blog, 2012 has been a decent year for investors, as indicated by the broad stock and bond indexes that are showing gains. However, 2012 could have been a terrific year if Wall Street and its preeminent institutions had behaved honestly and decently with the public. We hope that happens in 2013, but history and experience suggest only more pain for investors because of Wall Street, not less.
Disclosure: Zamansky & Associates are securities attorneys representing investors in federal and state litigation and arbitration against financial institutions, including in litigation concerning the JPMorgan "London Whale" episode and the Facebook IPO.