Customers, employees, shareholders and taxpayers hate large corporations for many reasons. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed a lengthy list of corporations for which there is substantial research data to choose the 10 most hated in America.
Research about companies comes in two sets. One is public research about consumer satisfaction, customer care, pricing of products and services, and brand impressions. Wall St. research takes into account another set of factors, which include present earnings, profit forecasts, product development and quality, and brand valuations.
Some of the companies on this list are widely despised because of the businesses that they are in. In an economic environment where resources are stretched, an airline or retail operation that has millions of customers is likely to make a lot of enemies. Similarly, banks and other corporations with a large number of retail outlets are at a disadvantage compared with businesses with few customers. Some of the corporations on this list also have had to fire significant numbers of employees due to the recession. Downsizing causes poor morale, increases the workload of the remaining staff and affects customer satisfaction when service is poorer.
We examined each company based on several criteria. We considered total return to shareholders in comparison to the broader market and other companies in the same sector during the last year. We reviewed financial analyst opinions on those companies that are public. We analyzed data from a broad array of sources, including Consumer Reports, JD Power, the MSN/Zogby Poll, ForeSee and the University of Michigan American Customer Satisfaction Index. We also considered negative press based on 24/7 Wall St.’s analysis of media coverage and the Flame Index, which uses a proprietary algorithm to review more than 12,000 websites and ranks companies based on the frequency of negative words. Finally, we considered the views of taxpayers, Congress and the White House — where applicable.
Several companies that should have been on the list based on performance and public perception during the financial crisis did not make it. For example, it would be easy to argue that mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac should be here. The bankruptcy and maintenance of the two by the federal government will cost taxpayers between $224 billion and $360 billion, according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA). But, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are no longer stand-alone companies in any normal sense. Their shares have been delisted. Each is in effect a ward of the U.S. government with no ability to control its own fate through the actions of management or public shareholders.
The U.S. Postal Service could also be a candidate for the list. It has cost taxpayers billions of dollars, and it lost $5.1 billion in its last fiscal year alone. However, the Postmaster General and his staff have little or no control over the eventual fate of the USPS. Congress decides how and to what extent it will be funded. That means Congress essentially controls how many workers and offices will exist, and even, based on funding, how often the mail will be delivered.
It is worth noting that some of the companies on the list may have done very poorly by some measures, and well by others. A few of the most hated companies have had good stock performances. Others may have satisfied customers. All of this was taken into account when the decisions for the final list were made.
The following are 24/7 Wall St.’s 10 Most Hated Companies for 2011, in no particular order.
Facebook currently has more than 800 million users. Any company of this size is sure to have some detractors. Compared to other leading social media sites, however, Facebook has the lowest customer satisfaction score from the American Customer Satisfaction Index. The site has repeatedly irked users by neglecting personal privacy. Notable events include the introduction of facial recognition software, which spurred an investigation by the European Union, and the Facebook timeline. Facebook received significant negative press for forcing new settings on users that changes how their personal information is shared with others. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has only recently said that the company will no longer do this. According to the MSN Money-IBOPE Zogby International customer service survey for 2011, 25.9% of Facebook users described the company’s customer service as “poor” — the lowest rating.
2. American Airlines
American’s parent, AMR, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in November 2011. That virtually wiped out the value of the holdings of every shareholder. American recently was picked as the worst airline for customer service by the annual Middle Seat scorecard, published in the Wall Street Journal. “For the past five years, American has been among the worst three airlines at on-time performance, a key measure of an airline’s operation since it impacts mishandled bags, bumped passengers and even canceled flights and customer complaints,” the survey’s authors said. The report states that the airline was the worst among major carriers last year for baggage handling and canceled flights, canceling 70% more flights than United (NYSE: UAL) and Delta (NYSE: DAL). With a score of 63 in the American Customer Satisfaction Index section on airlines, American falls near the bottom, well below leader Southwest (NYSE: LUV), which has a score of 81.
AT&T (NYSE: T) recently received the lowest score given by JD Power for wireless customer care performance. It also was given the lowest rating for customer service by ACSI. AT&T has been dogged by problems with its 3G network, which are now largely behind it. AT&T was attacked by both the government and press for what many saw as an attempt to set up a monopoly through its buyout of T-Mobile. Consumers feared the combined company would have extraordinary powers to set prices. The wireless carrier also received the lowest satisfaction rating for cell-phone standard service providers, according to Consumer Reports. The MSN Money-IBOPE Zogby International customer service survey reports that 26% of customers rate service as “poor.”
Nokia (NYSE: NOK) has punished its shareholders as its percentage of the smartphone market has dropped quarter after quarter — its stock is down 50% in the last year. Nokia likely will lose its lead as the top handset company in the world to Samsung sometime this year. Nokia was tied for lowest overall satisfaction in JD Power’s 2011 Wireless Traditional Mobile Phone Satisfaction Study. It also has received the lowest ACSI score for wireless telephones. According to Interbrand, Nokia’s brand value has dropped 15% from last year. Nokia has tried to salvage its prospects through an agreement with Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT), whose Windows OS will be used in Nokia smartphones. Despite rave reviews for the new Windows Mobile, a partnership with the weakest mobile OS maker only makes Nokia’s fortunes worse.
5. Goldman Sachs
Goldman Sachs’ (NYSE: GS) poor reputation was cemented when the government sued it for fraud in 2010. The firm settled with the government for $550 million, but this was viewed as little more than a slap on the wrist because of the bank’s immense wealth. And the fraud accusations have not stopped — they have actually accelerated. Goldman faces a set of suits over mortgage instruments it sold worth a total of $15.8 billion. The Federal Housing Finance Agency in September accused Goldman of misrepresenting the quality of $11.1 billion worth of residential mortgage-backed securities. In the cases in which Goldman has settled claims, the press has not always been favorable. According to a Wall Street Journal report, Goldman agreed to forgive 25% of principal balances on 143 mortgage loans to borrowers in New York, or $13 million of a total principal balance of $52 million. The $13 million is less than a senior banker at Goldman might make in a year. Perhaps those homeowners are part of the Occupy Wall Street protests against big banks, for which Goldman is the poster boy.
6. Best Buy
The electronics retailer broke the cardinal rule of customer relations. It failed to keep a promise to its customers — and told them when it was too late. Best Buy (NYSE: BBY) ran out of certain items that people had ordered for Christmas, but did not tell the customers until two days before the holiday. In a Forbes article, which argues that Best Buy will slowly go out of business, the author pointed out that the retailer’s explanation made it appear that some force from outside the company caused the problem — this was not the case. According to the company’s press release, “Due to overwhelming demand of hot product offerings on BestBuy.com during the November and December time period, we have encountered a situation that has affected redemption of some of our customers’ online orders.” Did Best Buy encounter the problem, or did the problem encounter Best Buy? ForeSee research recently issued its 2011 Retail Satisfaction list for the holidays. Best Buy rival Amazon.com (NASDAQ: AMZN) was at the top of the list. Best Buy was not even in the top 20. Wall St. has no reason to be happy with Best Buy either. Its shares have fallen 30% in the past year.
7. Bank of America
In September, Bank of America (NYSE: BAC) announced it was laying off 30,000 people. Its share value has dropped 55% in one year. And the bank continues to face legal actions from the federal government, several states and some of its shareholders. In early September the FHFA officially announced its lawsuit against 17 banks, including Bank of America, Citigroup (NYSE: C), JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM) and Goldman Sachs, concerning $196 billion in mortgage securities. Bank of America has even been charged with keeping one of its largest legal threats a secret from shareholders. Reuters reported in August that top Bank of America lawyers knew as early as January that American International Group (NYSE: AIG) was prepared to sue the bank for more than $10 billion, seven months before the lawsuit was filed. Retail customers have shown their disdain for Bank of America’s customer service. Not only is it near the bottom of many customer satisfaction surveys, 41.5% of respondents in the MSN Money-IBOPE Zogby International customer service survey rated its service as “poor.” That is the highest percentage of respondents giving a “poor” rating to any company.
8. Johnson & Johnson
Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ) has experienced a series of product recalls and problems that began with Motrin and Tylenol for children. According to AP, these recalls were among “more than two dozen that J&J has issued since September 2009, for products ranging from adult and children’s nonprescription Tylenol, Motrin, Benadryl and other medicines to prescription drugs for HIV and seizures, defective hip implants that caused severe pain and contact lenses that irritated the eyes.” The parents of a two-year-old who was treated with one of the tainted batches of Children’s Tylenol recently sued the company for the wrongful death of their child. In March 2011, the FDA took over three Tylenol plants owned by Johnson & Johnson. The recalls are beginning to hurt the company. Third-quarter 2011 sales of over-the-counter drugs fell 24% from the previous year. According to Bloomberg, company executives attributed the significant loss of market share to quality issues that kept products off shelves. The long series of problems has ruined what was once a sterling reputation. Since the disclosures mounted two years ago, Johnson & Johnson shares are flat while the DJIA is up 17%, over the past year.
The aging retailer has done a poor job with customers in the past year, and the parent company has done poorly for Wall St. since Sears merged with bankrupt Kmart in 2005. The performance of both brands has been so bad that shares in Sears Holdings (NASDAQ: SHLD) have dropped 60% in the past year. Sears has been the biggest problem. In the five holiday weeks that ended at the start of January, Sears store sales were down 6%. After announcing these results, Sears Holdings said it would close 100 to 120 Sears and Kmart stores. In December, S&P placed Sears Holdings’ credit rating on review for a possible downgrade. “We believe that one of the primary issues is that the company has underinvested in its stores base, especially when compared with its peers,” the ratings agency said. Sears.com did particularly badly in the recent ForeSee holiday online shopping customer satisfaction survey. It ranked sixth from the bottom out of the 40 companies on the list. The American Customer Satisfaction Index for Department and Discount Stores also ranked Sears near the bottom of the list, along with Kmart.
Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX) had one of the highest customer satisfaction ratings of any large consumer-facing company a year ago. Its stock traded at an all-time high of $305 and has dropped to $90 in less than six months. One of the primary causes was the raising of customer rates by 60% last August. The move caused the loss of 810,000 subscribers, according to the company’s third-quarter earnings report, and set off a firestorm of customer complaints. CEO Reed Hastings said at the time that the cancellations would continue until “the price effect washes through.” The final damage done to the company is incalculable. It had ranked number two on the list of ForeSee’s online retail quality list a year ago, just behind Amazon. It fell to 18th place in this year’s survey. Netflix shares were among the greatest losers on Nasdaq last year. The stock shed 62% of its value, virtually all in the final four months of the year.
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