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Wall Street Awards: The best, worst and WTF of 2015

It was a perverse year on Wall Street. "The Big Short" movie and "Flash Boys" book reminded us of how evil some of the players in finance are – though, I'm not sure we're any closer to knowing how big the bad apple population is on Wall Street.

The Big Short movie
Source: The Big Short

Martin Shkreli put on his bad boy skinny jeans and set a new bar for Most Hated Man in America. So, congratulations, to all you other hate magnets – this one's on Shkreli! Maybe you want to send him a fruit basket or a membership to the Dollar Shave Club. It's your call.


But before we embark on 2016, and all the hopes, dreams and greed it may bring, let's hand out the best-worst-WTF awards for 2015:


PATHETIC APOLOGY AWARD

WINNER: Owen Li

The year started with Mr. Li losing a metric crap-ton of money for his firm (all but $200,000 of the $100 million the firm used to manage), then writing a letter to simply say, "Sorry." Actually he said, "I'm truly sorry." It was so sad, it could be Adele's follow-up hit to "Hello."

Hello, it's Li … At least I can say I've tried … to tell you I'm truly sorry for my losses realized …

BIGGEST STRIP-CLUB BILL AWARD

WINNER: A sales trader friend who shall remain anonymous

This is how the conversation started: "Turney, I need to borrow some money."

And this is how it ended: "I'm a writer… I don't have any money."

But here's everything in between: A sales trader friend of mine apparently had racked up an American Express bill of $27,500 over the course of one night. (In the past, of course, there have been strip-club bills in the news that have topped $50,000 or even $100,000, but this is the biggest one I've seen this year.)


Edward Olive | Getty Images

He's been sales trading for almost 20 years now. He covers mostly hedge funds at a mid-level bank with questionable research. So, he knows how the game is played. He and some clients were at The Standard Biergarten (at the Standard Hotel on the High Line in New York) on a Thursday night when they met a couple of ladies. After some shots, good conversation and a lot of flirting, the idea of going to a strip club came up. It sounded like a great idea. But this is where is story started to lose steam. He wasn't really sure what happened next. He remembers going to the club, he remembers going to the back room and he thinks he had a good time.

"Turney I really need money — my wife can't see the credit card statement," he pleaded to me on the phone. "I really think they drugged me."

Up until a few of days ago, I didn't buy my friend's story of him getting drugged. To me, it sounded like a good old-fashioned blackout. But after reading Jessica Pressler's NY Mag article I think he might be right.

ANTICLIMACTIC AWARD

WINNER: Janet Yellen and the Federal Reserve

After an agonizing wait over the past year as economists and traders debated the health of the economy and the psyche of the Federal Reserve, the Fed finally bit it and raised interest rates for the first time since the financial crisis.

It was like having a crush on that little red-headed girl at school and when she's 88, she finally says, "I always thought you were cute!" Thanks for nothing, granny.


Fed Chair Janet Yellen
Getty Images
Fed Chair Janet Yellen

THE FALLING KNIFE AWARD

WINNER: Anyone trying to trade oil on the long side

There's an expression on Wall Street that it's hard to catch a falling knife … that's what it was like trying to trade oil this year. After reaching a high around $140 a barrel in 2008, oil has had a tumultuous ride. And just when you thought it was over in 2014, it fell off the cliff again. Oil started the year around $50 a barrel and many were predicting its recovery, only to see it constantly falling through another bottom. It looks like it's going to end the year around $35 a barrel.

When that knife started to fall at the end of 2014, a lot of hedgies I know tried to step in and catch it. Many of them ended up sporting bandages on their hands. Although the price of oil had an OK summer, each time it sells off, this is the commodity they go to. And here we are again – we're hearing rumblings of traders saying the bottom is near, time to dip your toe back in.

You know what you should invest in? Johnson & Johnson (maker of Band-Aids).


THE CREATIVE ACCOUNTING AWARD

WINNER: Michael Pearson,CEO of Valeant Pharmaceuticals

Also known as "The Enron Award." Valeant's stock is getting pummeled as it tries to explain how it prices drugs and books revenue. One particular Skilling-esque feat – a report found that Pearson may have received a $27 million windfall after the company accidentally gave him more than 500,000 shares of stock "in error" in 2013. And then, the company allowed him to pay it back at the value of the shares when he received them – not at the time the error occurred, which makes as much sense to me as my daughter's 5th grade common core math homework.

DEAD UNICORN AWARD

WINNER: Tech IPOs

IPOs for tech companies in 2015 reached only 28, which is about half of what we saw in 2014, according to Dealogic. You have a better chance of seeing a pair of pleated pants on a trading desk these days than a tech IPO.

And, to make matters even worse, almost half of them are performing below deal price. Everyone's chasing the next "unicorn" — a start-up company whose valuation has exceeded the value of $1 billion. Every other guy on Wall Street is invested in some new app or start-up these days — and most of them will die.

MOST HATED MAN IN AMERICA AWARD

WINNER: Martin Shkreli, former CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals

Martin Shkreli came out of the gate ready for hate when he jacked up the price for a life-saving drug 55-fold – from $13.50 per pill to $750. He locked in his "most hated" status after he showed no remorse for the price hike, saying he wished he had raised it even more! By the time he got arrested for securities fraud, even little old ladies in the corner of the laundromat were cheering — with visions of schadenfreude dancing in their heads.


Martin Shkreli departs U.S. Federal Court after an arraignment and his being charged on a federal indictment filed in Brooklyn on Dec. 17, 2015.
Lucas Jackson | Reuters
Martin Shkreli departs U.S. Federal Court after an arraignment and his being charged on a federal indictment filed in Brooklyn on Dec. 17, 2015.

RINGLING BROTHERS AWARD

WINNER: Donald Trump

Elephants walk around the arena during a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus performance
Andrew Caballero-Reynolds | AFP | Getty Images
Elephants walk around the arena during a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus performance

Trump, also no stranger to haters, brought the circus to town, set up shop…and isn't going away. With comments like "Blood coming out of her wherever" and "Look at that face," he sparked many a water-cooler conversations. And then, with his verbal backhand, he fired statements like "I like people who didn't get captured" and "They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people" right over the net.

What I find fascinating about Trump lovers is the reason they love him. He talks big, he tells us that our problems are simple and easy to fix (even though they're not). It's not what he says, but how he says it. He's financially independent, he doesn't care about being politically correct — the same exact reasons people liked going out with me years ago when I was drunk and had a bag of cocaine in my pocket. This campaign is turning into an episode of "American Horror Story: Season 4." Tune in next week to find out what happens…

Donald Trump
Ralph Freso | Getty Images

KISSING ALL THE BOYS UNTIL YOU FIND A HUSBAND AWARD

WINNER: TWC / Time Warner

After many first dates, some courting and false proposals, Time Warner finally merged with St. Louis based Charter for $65 billion. Who are we to judge? This one may last – just as those other cable companies hit their mid-life crisis and blow it all on hookers and a Ferrari. All I can say is, I'm glad our long, national nightmare is over! They're married now. Let's just hope you don't have to call customer service anytime soon.


I’D-RATHER-EAT-A-HORSE-MEATBALL AWARD

(Sponsored by SGYP, developing the world's best IBS drugs)
WINNER: CMG / Chipotle

Outbreaks of E.coli have sickened hundreds at Chipotle restaurants from coast to coast. Chipotle execs epically botched the handling of this crisis, declaring that "There is no E.coli in Chipotle" (which in and of itself is ironic because, as a word scramble, all the letters of E.coli are in Chipotle) only for another outbreak of a different strain to emerge. This prompted one crisis expert to declare them stuck in a "fiasco vortex."

Yeah, remember when we thought it was scandalous that horse meat was detected in Ikea meatballs? If this were "Fear Factor," I would definitely choose the horse meatball over the Chipotle burrito.

I WAS WRONG ABOUT SHAKE SHACK AWARD

WINNER: Me

Turnabout is fair play. And so, I humbly give this award to myself. In February, I wrote an article about selling Shake Shack in conjunction with them going public. Oh, how wrong I was. The stock went from $45 to $95 in just a few months. Ouch. The stock sold off with the rest of the market at the end of the summer and continues to struggle. But as they say on the Street — being early is the same thing as being wrong.

Well that's a wrap on 2015!

Here's what I see as I peer into my crystal ball for 2016:


Slobodan Vasic | Getty Images

It's all about DXY (the dollar). With the Federal Reserve tightening rates and the European Central Bank easing rates —all signs point north for the dollar, which isn't great for U.S. companies doing business abroad.

The VIX (volatility) will increase with the uncertainty during a presidential election year. And it'll create a deep bench of investors to sit on the sidelines, which will translate to much more web traffic for ESPN, Backpage and TMZ.

China will determine how bad the year will be for the U.S. market. The question isn't really if China is going to slow, but the question is: Will it crash? Right now I say it's a coin flip. Heads?

Texas will announce a strong desire to become independent.

Millennials and Baby Boomers will be at odds while Gen Xers roll a cigarette and watch from the bleachers.

Taylor Swift will break up with Calvin Harris and then write a hit single about it.

The NY Mets return to .500 baseball.


Commentary by Turney Duff, a former trader at the hedge fund Galleon Group. Duff chronicled the spectacular rise and fall of his career on Wall Street in the book, "The Buy Side." He's also a consultant on the upcoming Showtime show, "Billions," starring Damian Lewis and Paul Giamatti. Follow him on Twitter @turneyduff.