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Wall Street Awards—The best, worst and 'I can't even' of 2016

Actor Leonardo DiCaprio accepts the award for Best Actor in a Comedy for 'The Wolf of Wall Street' onstage during the 19th Annual Critics' Choice Movie Awards at Barker Hangar on January 16, 2014 in Santa Monica, California.
Getty Images
Actor Leonardo DiCaprio accepts the award for Best Actor in a Comedy for 'The Wolf of Wall Street' onstage during the 19th Annual Critics' Choice Movie Awards at Barker Hangar on January 16, 2014 in Santa Monica, California.

At the opening bell of 2016, the markets looked like an overmatched boxer entering the ring. Taking crushing blows to the head on the first day of trading, stocks got pummeled, creating a nosebleed for the first month. In June, Britain shocked the world with its vote to leave the EU — creating global losses of about $2 trillion in one day. But the markets started punching back.

In a year dominated by political headlines, it was also filled with highlights, lowlights and surprises like the Pokemon Go phenomenon, the delightful end to the Chicago Cubs World Series curse, a widespread Zika virus debate and the continued cyber security threats with a billion Yahoo accounts being hacked.

It was a decent year for M&A activity. The Bayer and Monsanto deal for $66 billion created a combined company that controls one-fourth of the global supply of seeds and pesticides. And the biggest deal of the year, which received negative commentary from every political candidate, was the AT&T and Time Warner deal, worth $85.4 billion.

And no year is complete with a major scandal. Wells Fargo took the spotlight in September, with a scandal that resulted in CEO John Stumpf stepping down. The firm was accused of opening as many as 1.5 million deposit accounts and 565,000 credit cards without customer's permission in order to meet sales goals.

The Federal Reserve and President-elect Donald Trump exchanged a few punches … then the Fed did what everyone expected and raised rates in December amid a firming labor market and slowly rising inflation. It's your move Donald… And oil was taken out of intensive care unit and is now considered stable. And as the year went on the markets started to resemble a heavyweight champion defending its title. Stocks hit record highs in August and then again in December, with the Dow flirting with 20,000 like a Kardashian at a New Year's Eve party.

But before we embark on 2017, all the hopes, dreams and greed it may bring, let's hand out the best, worst and "I can't even" awards for 2016.


BALLER OF THE YEAR: Carl Icahn

Carl Icahn speaking at Delivering Alpha in New York on Sept. 13, 2016.
David A. Grogan | CNBC
Carl Icahn speaking at Delivering Alpha in New York on Sept. 13, 2016.

Leaving a dinner party early is typically considered poor form — some might actually call it rude. But Carl Icahn was like the honey badger when he excused himself from Trump's victory party to go home and drop a cool billion buying up equities.

While the rest of the market was freaking out about a possible Trump win, Icahn was making money. (And we all know how that ended, with the Dow up about 10 percent since Election Day.)

But wait, there's more: Icahn said he actually would've dropped MORE money if he could've.

"I thought it was absurd that the market, the S&P was down 100 points on Trump getting elected. I tried to put a lot more to work, but I couldn't," he said. A billion dollar buy will not only win you this award, but perhaps, inspire Jay-Z to write a new anthem.


THE WELCOME-TO-THE-INTERNET AWARD: Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey

Henry Dombey | Vox Media

Oh, Twitter had so much promise to battle Facebook for social media world domination when it first came out. Then, they seemed to take a Rip Van Winkle-sized nap while other social media blew past them. Just this week — THIS WEEK! — CEO Jack Dorsey said he's been "thinking a lot about" an edit button for tweets.

If this were a relationship and your boyfriend said he was "thinking a lot about" marrying you but not actually doing it, you know what I'd say? Ditch him!

You know what? We're changing this award to the I-CAN'T-EVEN AWARD because seriously, Jack. I CAN'T EVEN.


THE KIDS’ CHOICE AWARD: Snapchat

Arjun Kharpal

Trump may be on Twitter and your parents are on Facebook but the kids? Ask any 13-year-old – they're on Snapchat. Last month, the company filed paperwork for an IPO estimated as much as $25 billion. It's generating headlines like "Is Snapchat the next Apple?" and "Snapchat IPO could take money away from Facebook." And, unlike some OTHER social media we know, they're not resting on their laurels – they're branching out into actual products. I've gotta admit, those Snapchat specs are kinda cool. (Do the kids say cool anymore?!)

THE EASY COME, EASY GO AWARD: Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes

Elizabeth Holmes, founder and CEO of Theranos.
David Orrell | CNBC
Elizabeth Holmes, founder and CEO of Theranos.

Theranos, founded by 19-year-old Stanford dropout Elizabeth Holmes, boasted it was a "revolutionary blood-testing start-up," which claimed it could run all kinds of lab tests on just a few drops of blood taken from the tip of the finger with a quick pinprick – not the prolonged, sometimes nauseating draw of blood from the arm via a needle. The company's valuation soared into the billions, and so did Elizabeth Holmes' net worth. Then came a whistleblower, who raised concerns that Theranos was doctoring researching, and a growing number of lawsuits from patients who claimed they'd had heart attacks and other health problems after faulty results from the Theranos blood test. The house of cards came crashing down, along with the company's valuation – and Holmes' net worth. The company is laying off much of its staff and Holmes is banned from owning a lab for two years.

THE RAIN MAKER AWARD: Bill Ackman's wife's divorce attorney

Karen Ann Herskovitz and Pershing Square Capital Management CEO Bill Ackman attend the 2015 Basser Center For BRCA Benefit at Cipriani Wall Street on November 10, 2015 in New York City.
Mark Sagliocco | Getty Images
Karen Ann Herskovitz and Pershing Square Capital Management CEO Bill Ackman attend the 2015 Basser Center For BRCA Benefit at Cipriani Wall Street on November 10, 2015 in New York City.

Just when you thought you were having the worst year ever, news broke that hedge-fund billionaire Bill Ackman, whose firm Pershing Square was already losing a lot of money this year, was ending 2016 with a 9-figure divorce.

Lawyers for both Ackman and his wife, Karen Ann Herskovitz, have reached a quick settlement. There are a few details that need to be worked out like how to split the $90 million penthouse, bought for fun, at the new One57, which Ackman has described as "the Mona Lisa of apartments," or the $35 million apartment at the Beresford off Central Park. They also have a waterfront estate in Bridgehampton bought in 2011 for $22 million and the $23.5 million mansion nearby.

But this couple should get another award. Typically Wall Street divorces start and end like a bad Lifetime movie (wait, are there good Lifetime movies?) … but this one seems like they're keeping it civil and classy — we're not hearing about mistresses, coke-fueled hooker binges and whatnot. So, we also give these two the CLASSY DIVORCE AWARD. Well done, everyone. Classy divorces won't necessarily sell copies of the New York Post but I think we can all agree that 2016 — and the high-profile divorce business — was severely deficient in the class department.


THE BRADY BUNCH AWARD: OPEC

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries showed the world that the most dysfunctional family can still actually get into a room and make a decision. (Enforcing it? Eh not so much, but let's stick to the positives.) After decades of infighting, the cartel, which accounts for a third of global oil supply, agreed to cut output.


THE BEST BABY HANDLER AWARD: Donald J. Trump

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump holds babies at a campaign rally in Colorado Springs, Colorado, U.S., July 29, 2016.
Carlo Allegri | Reuters
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump holds babies at a campaign rally in Colorado Springs, Colorado, U.S., July 29, 2016.

If he handles the economy anything like he handles babies, we are totally screwed.

THE BERT & ERNIE AWARD: Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin

The relationship between the stars of Sesame Street has always been a mystery. Why do they bicker so much? Why do they like each other? They've shown us that even though two people have totally different characteristics, they can still be good friends. And if that doesn't describe Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, I don't know what does! Putin has called Trump "brilliant" and praised his personality while Trump has express admiration for Putin in the past for his "very strong control" over Russia.

Sunny day… Sweepin' the clouds away… On my way to where the air is sweet… Can you tell me how to get, How to get to Sesame Street?

THE ‘MISTAKE’ AWARD: Michael Pearson / Valeant

Who doesn't like a good magic trick? Well, except when it comes to making your money disappear. On March 21, Valeant announced it had discovered accounting irregularities, blaming the mistake on lack of corporate oversight. I think we can all agree that using the word "mistake" is very generous for a company warning it might potentially default on its $30 billion debt obligations. I hate it when that happens. Share prices of VRX have fallen — oh, just a tad — from its mid-2015 high of $335 down to $14.

Dude, if that's the benchmark for "mistake," then I haven't made nearly as many of them as I'd thought!


THE **FLAMING** MISTAKE AWARD: Samsung and the Galaxy Note 7

How they missed this terrifying flaw in QA, I'll never know. But somehow, Samsung released a phone that had the potential to overheat and spontaneously burst into flames. The risk was so great, the phone was banned on planes and Samsung ultimately had to recall millions of the phones and issue replacements. After some of THOSE phones caught fire, Samsung had to do a complete recall and permanently cease production of the phone. Oh, and just to lock in the title of company having the worst year ever, Samsung had to recall some of its washing machines as well after several of them spontaneously exploded, causing injuries such as a broken jaw and injured shoulder.

Wow. Can you hear me now?


THE WINNER WINNER CHICKEN DINNER AWARD: Attorney General Preet Bharara

For the first time in 19 years the Supreme Court weighed in on Wall Street insider trading laws. And in an 8-0 ruling, the court sided with Attorney General Preet Bharara that, in certain circumstances, traders and investors can be indicted, tried and convicted of insider trading even if prosecutors can't prove the person providing the tip received "a personal benefit" in exchange for the information.

THE MARTIN SHKRELI AWARD: Martin Shkreli

Martin Shkreli
CNBC
Martin Shkreli

It used to be called the "Most Hated Man in America" award but Martin Shkreli (the drug-company CEO who jacked up prices of life-saving drugs and then was a jerk about it) won it with such gusto last year, we decided to name the whole friggin' award after him. And — everyone act surprised — he won again this year! You, sir, are in a league of your own.

THE STOP IT AWARD: Creepy Clowns

Seriously. Just stop it.

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 is a commentator on CNBC's "Filthy Rich Guide" and a consultant on the Showtime show, "Billions," starring Damian Lewis and Paul Giamatti. Follow him on Twitter @turneyduff.

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