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Don’t Listen to Jim Cramer on Mad Money

Don't Listen to Jim Cramer on CNBC's 'Mad Money' TV Show

If you ever tune in to CNBC’s popular Mad Money show, you’ll notice that host Jim Cramer speaks about the financial markets with unabashed certainty. Behind goofy sound effects and onscreen antics lies his particular brand of stock market punditry.

Cramer’s energy and confidence are most evident in the lightning round where his devotees hail “Booyah” and ask for his take on a barrage of stocks. In response, Cramer presents quick statistics and declares, “Same-store sales in China rose 12% last quarter. It’s a screaming buy; they’re doing great. BUY! BUY! BUY!” Or, he blurts out, “This company is involved with deep water rigs, the deep water market has not come back at all. If it does go up at all, SELL, SELL, SELL!”

What’s most notable about Mad Money is that Cramer is seemingly equipped to answer questions about any listed company with all the gusto he can muster. How could he possibly know the ins and outs of every company: their products, finances, cash flow, competitive positions, market prospects, and current valuation? He may know of many companies cursorily, but how could he have intimate knowledge of every ticker symbol that his fans throw at him? You’ll never hear him say, “Sorry, never heard of them,” or “Gee … truth be told, I’m not familiar with their new products or how they compare to the competitor’s products. I really couldn’t tell you.” He is loud and boisterous. He’s got to have an opinion on every stock—if he doesn’t, there is no show.

Jim Cramer, the best entertainer in the financial media

'Jim Cramer's Mad Money: Watch TV, Get Rich' by Jim Cramer (ISBN 1416537902) Jim Cramer’s credentials are impressive: Harvard, Goldman Sachs, hedge fund management, and He is the author of many investment-advice books with titles as appealing as “Get Rich Carefully”, “Sane Investing in an Insane World”, “Confessions of a Street Addict”, “Watch TV Get Rich”. He is experienced. He has extensive knowledge of the markets. He is passionate. He is smart.

Nonetheless, do not let Cramer’s credentials fool you about Mad Money‘s intent. His antics are entertaining. He wears silly costumes, yells at the camera, throws chairs around when angry, hits things with mallets, and chews heads off foam bears—all while producing goofy sound effects that include squealing pigs and a flushing toilet.

Jim Cramer’s opinions on Mad Money are often one-dimensional, half-baked, oversimplified, or wide of the mark. In the very first Mad Money episode I watched in 2005, a caller on the lightening round asked him about a company called PetroKazakhstan. Cramer’s response was that he did not trust the Russians. PetroKazakhstan was a Calgary-based Canadian oil company that was led by Canadian executives, did all its business in Kazakhstan, and had little to do with Russia. (The state-owned PetroChina acquired PetroKazakhstan in 2006.)

Don’t identify Cramer’s show with sound investment advice

Jim Cramer's Sound Effects and Onscreen Antics on 'Mad Money' As with other programs in the financial media that are teeming with talking heads, watching Mad Money can give you pointers as to what’s happening in the markets and in business trends. You can get ideas for what stocks to research or even speculate on. However, none of it constitutes sound investment advice.

Cramer’s job is not to make you money. He gets paid by CNBC to generate viewership and to entertain viewers with the pretext of dishing out dependable investment advice. He is not a trickster; he just is an entertainer on Mad Money, a fact that he acknowledged in a 2007 essay in the New York Magazine: “On the show, I say stupid things, yell ‘Booyah’ with alarming frequency, and occasionally wear a diaper or jump into a pile of lettuce to illustrate the finer points of investing. … God knows why, but there seems to be a market for this kind of idiocy.”

Watch Mad Money for the frenzy and personality-driven entertainment. Don’t take his speculative tips or investment advice seriously. Instead, do on your own research.

Rule #21 in Cramer’s 25 Rules of Investing states, “Be a TV critic: accept that what you hear on television is probably right, but no more than that.” Now, that’s good advice.

John Bogle’s “Little Book of Common Sense Investing” [Leadership Reading #2]

The Little Book of Common Sense Investing, John Bogle “In investing, the winning strategy for reaping the rewards of capitalism depends on owning businesses, not trading stocks,” argues John Bogle in making a strong case for low-cost index funds in his text, “The Little Book of Common Sense Investing.” With statistics and graphs, Bogle rationalizes that low-cost index funds outperform most investment professionals and offer better-than-average returns for investors over the long term.

John Bogle is the legendary founder of the investor-owned Vanguard Group, currently the world’s largest mutual fund company by total assets under management. Over the course of 25 years at the helm of Vanguard, until his retirement in 1999, he focused the efforts of Vanguard on offering cost-conscious investment choices to the masses. John Bogle is the bestselling author of many other books on investment advice.

Superiority of Low-Cost Index Funds

John C. Bogle, Founder of The Vanguard Group John Bogle founded the world’s first index mutual fund, the Vanguard 500 Index Fund in 1975. Since then, “Saint Jack” (as critics labeled Bogle mockingly) has untiringly promoted the virtues of low-fee, no-load, low-turnover, passively-managed index (or more precisely, index-tracking) mutual funds. Investing in such funds, he contends in “The Little Book,” is the simplest and most effective way to invest in a diversified portfolio of stocks and bonds, and profit from earnings growth of businesses and the dividends they yield.

John Bogle methodically discusses every theme relevant to successful investing: the myths of speculation and market timing, inflation, frictional costs (fees charged by brokers and investment advisors, costs of transactions, front-end and back-end loads,) and the effects of compounding and taxes. He then convincingly counters arguments against investing in total market index funds through easy-to-follow quantitative appraisals of investing in individual stocks and bonds, actively managed funds, hedge funds, and sector-specific funds. At the end of each chapter, Bogle reinforces his position with words of wisdom from some of the greatest minds in economics and investing: Ben Graham, Warren Buffet, John Maynard Keynes, Peter Lynch, and the like.

Invaluable Insights for Investors

The majority of people do not have the time, energy, determination, or aptitude for understanding economics, examining investments, managing risk, and building wealth for themselves. They are either overly cautious, or they invest heedlessly, submit to market trends, or engage in speculation. In reading John Bogle’s authoritative book, modest investors will recognize that low-cost index funds offer them broad diversification, reasonably good returns over the long-term, and the ability to outperform a majority of investment professionals.

Informed investors will find, notwithstanding many drawn-out discussions, a great reiteration of John Bogle’s now-familiar, commonsensical ideas on the merits of index investing.

Leadership Reader’s Bottom-line

Is Day Trading and Speculation for You?

A few weeks ago, even as stock markets around the world suffered a turmoil triggered by downbeat economic news from China, a prolific 36-year-old Japanese day trader claimed to have made $34 million by betting big against the market trends and timing the bottom precisely.

Notwithstanding frequent mention of such success stories and blaring ads in the media tempting you to stake money on your wits and your instinct to profit from market swings, it can be very hard to make money consistently in day trading and short-term speculation.

As a fundamentals-based long-term investor, I don’t think there is anything wrong with day trading or short-term speculation. With skill, strategy, and the right temperament, it’s possible to be just as profitable in speculating as in investing with any other time horizon.

Over the years, many sophisticated stock-analysis services have emerged to facilitate trading and speculation by amateurs such as these pictured day-traders from Bangalore. Vast online social networks such as StockTwits engage in the exchange of information, opinion, gossip, rumors, and stories of successes and losses.

Day Trading and Speculating by Amateurs in Bangalore, India

For a few successful trades, luck may be the main factor. However, in the fullness of time, the most important factors for consistent stock market gains are discipline, temperament, and risk management.

Most day traders fail because it’s too darn hard to time the market. They lack a coherent technique that works consistently. Instead of following a definite strategy rooted in fundamentals or a structured thought-process, they follow the news-tickers, minute-by-minute stock prices, volume- and price-trends, and poorly understood media-fed euphoria. Moreover, most day traders engage in short selling, a complex skill that goes against the grain of the conventional buy-and-hold mindset. Worst of all, most speculators don’t understand how their emotions come into play—both when they lose and when they win.

Like anything that requires focus, drive, discipline, persistence and a stroke of luck, day trading and speculation are hard to do successfully. It may take years of painful education and experimentation before creditable success. The U.S. market regulator Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) offers the following cautions on day trading:

  • Be prepared to suffer severe financial losses
  • Day traders do not “invest”
  • Day trading is an extremely stressful and expensive full-time job
  • Day traders depend heavily on borrowing money or buying stocks on margin
  • Don’t believe claims of easy profits
  • Watch out for “hot tips” and “expert advice” from newsletters and websites catering to day traders
  • Remember that “educational” seminars, classes, and books about day trading may not be objective

'Reminiscences of a Stock Operator' by Edwin Lefevre (ISBN 1500541052) Idea for Impact: Most studies on day trading and speculation reckon that over three-fourths of amateur traders lose money, some of which may have been borrowed. The high risk that comes with high-yield investments and the self-inflicted stress of loss and debt may not be for you.

A Low-risk Alternative: There is no fail-safe way to invest without any risk. If you don’t have the time, energy, determination, or a strong understanding of investing, consider low-cost index funds. Do your own research. Read my previous article about John Bogle, founder of Vanguard and his tireless advocacy of low-cost index funds.

Recommended Reading: Edwin Lefevre’s 1923 classic, “Reminiscences of a Stock Operator”, is a fictionalized biography of Jesse Livermore (1877–1940), one of the greatest stock market speculators of all time. This “font of investing wisdom” (per Alan Greenspan) is filled with insightful trading advice and shrewd market/price movement analyses.