There's at least one business magazine whose cover the bearish and blond Meredith Whitney probably won't be gracing anytime soon: Institutional Investor.
The monthly's latest issue includes its 37th annual All-America Research Team (yes, they still do that) and Oppenhemier & Co.'s Whitney, who has been feted by everyone from Fortune magazine to CNBC for correctly calling the banking crisis, had to content herself with being named a lowly runner-up. And that doesn't mean she gets to fill in if II's top pick in the banks/large-cap category, Matthew O'Connor of UBS, can't fulfill his "first-team" obligations. There's a second-team pick, Edward Najarian of Merrill Lynch & Co.; and a third teamer, Michael Mayo of Deutsche Bank AG, for that.
Indeed, Whitney had to share her runner-up berth with Jason Goldberg of Barclays Capital Inc., née Lehman Brothers Inc.--a guy who has never been on any cover, as far as we could tell. Her not-so-great showing is neither explained nor even noted by the magazine, which also gave the cold shoulder to the year's other celebrated prophet of banking doom, Ladenburg Thalmann & Co.'s Richard X. Bove. The omission, or near omission in Whitney's case, of these two bona fide media darlings from an analyst ranking that has long been derided as a popularity contest is an interesting development, to say the least.
Pre-Eliot Spitzer, a top spot on the II ranking could propel an analyst's career and pay to new heights. (Hello, Jack Grubman.) It was never about stock picking but compiled by polling professional money managers--a methodology that stirred not only II's rivals, who developed more consumer-centric rankings (hello, Fortune and The Wall Street Journal), but a crusading Spitzer. As analysts lost their clout in the years after Spitzer's research settlement, so too, did the II ranking and its imitators. Now, with Wall Street in meltdown, it seems less relevant than ever. Indeed, in what II says "can only be called a bittersweet victory,"--ya think?--Lehman, for the sixth consecutive year, sent more analysts to the research team than any other firm. Dick Fuld must be thrilled.
Then there's this year's shabby treatment of Whitney and Bove. On one hand, it certainly makes the II ranking seem out of touch. Whitney was not only on the cover of Fortune this summer, but a few weeks back, she made the magazine's list of the 50 Most Powerful Women as well as Smart Money's Power 30--a group the magazine says will lead us through our current woes. (In that ranking, Whitney, amazingly enough, rubs elbows with Henry Paulson and Ben Bernanke.) On the other hand, maybe II has it right --at least for its professional audience. Whitney's media fame is mostly due to a bearish and ultimately prescient call she made a year ago on Citigroup Inc.--not to mention her relative youth, attractiveness and pro-wrestler husband. Still, in times like this, with sellside research limping and Wall Street reeling, the larger question may be whether anyone cares anymore.
The media's fascination with the spending habits of alleged fat cats continued last week with a piece in the Los Angeles Times about so-called Wall Street wives making do in the downturn. The front-page story is filled with cringe-worthy anecdotes supplied by women who apparently feel no shame in admitting how hard it is to stroll through malls and boutiques and not be able to buy "a few things for themselves that might catch their fancy." One woman is bummed over her switch to scratchy, cheaper, toilet paper; another can't believe she can't have a Jacuzzi in her bedroom. Tough break. Aside from the piece's utter sexism--are male spouses any less materialistic than their female counterparts?--what struck us here is the story's definition of a "Wall Street wife." The husbands in the story are mostly back-office types, who made around $250,000 a year working for various investment banks. "Many [wives] insist they are as much a part of Main Street as the denigrated Wall Street," the story tells us.
Well, aren't they? The media still seems shocked, shocked, to learn that not every Wall Streeter rakes in millions and spends them on Greenwich, Conn., mansions. Faced with reduced incomes, the wives are doing what anyone in that situation would do: cutting back. But somehow, their ties to Wall Street, no matter how loose, makes them fair game for ridicule.