Maybe Jim Cramer's Not So Dumb. Maybe


Remember that spat between Jim Cramer and John Stewart? The one where Stewart called Cramer a "dartboard that talks"? The one that burned with a length and intensity that deserves its own Wikipedia entry?

Well here's something interesting: Via Ezra Klein and DealBook, I see that two professors at Northeastern have released a new study of Cramer's stock picks (pdf here) and found that he doesn't do so badly. A hypothetical Cramer portfolio had a 12.1% annualized from the middle of 2005 to the end of 2007, compared to 7.35% for Standard & Poor's index. So maybe Cramer's not so bad after all?

600 cramer returns.jpg

Well, let's not get carried away. The data only runs through the send of 2007, when asset prices were near their peak, and most of what Cramer's detractors remember most fondly is the man's bullish treatment of Bear Stearns -- right before Bear growled its way to the ash heap. Then there's the tepid reaction of authors of the study, who conclude: "Overall, the results suggest that, while Cramer may be entertaining and mesmerizing to many of his viewers, his aggregate or average stock recommendations are neither extraordinarily good nor unusually bad."

I curious how the good people at Mad Money were reacting to this, so I clicked over and found an answer: Extremely weird bragging. (From Jim Cramer's nephew?) As far as I can tell the article seems to be saying:

(1) We're an "educational" show, not an investing show, so you can't measure the success of the investments we recommend. We are not giving advice.

(2) And even if we were giving advice, the whole idea of judging a television show -- as opposed to someone who's actually out there managing a portfolio -- is just pointless.

(3) Oh yeah, the methodology of the study in question is flawed.

(4) Nonetheless, the study shows that we give good advice. It feels great to be vindicated.

(5) We are not hypocrites.

I'm pretty sure the only one of these points that would stand up to any scrutiny at all is (4). Mad Money is obviously an investment show and anyone who searches YouTube for "Jim Cramer investment" can prove it in about six seconds. Of course it makes sense to try to judge the track record of the show, for the same reason you'd want to know the track record of your doctor or lawyer or your child's school. And it seems to me that you're a textbook hypocrite if you claim in one sentence that the very idea of judging your program is nonsense, and claim in the next that the most recent judgment has left you vindicated.

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Conor Clarke is the editor, with Michael Kinsley, of Creative Capitalism. He was previously a fellow at The Atlantic and an editor at The Guardian. More

Conor Clarke is the editor, with Michael Kinsley, of Creative Capitalism, an economics blog that was recently published in book form by Simon and Schuster. He was previously a fellow at The Atlantic and an editor at The Guardian. He is also on Twitter.
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