Betting with Jim Cramer. Or Against Him

Jim Cramer is a fixture on the financial news channel, CNBC. He’s been on as long as we’ve been in business, and started his current show, Mad Money, three years after we got going.

In the early days, I felt like I had to watch him because clients would ask about his picks and expected me to say something about them. I found his show exhausting because he shouts a lot and lists so many buys and sells that I wasn’t sure how anyone could keep up with him.

I wrote an article about him in 2014 (which you can find here), when a company he founded, was publicly traded and losing a lot of money. I wrote at the time that his stock had once been worth $1.65 billion, but had fallen to $77 million, a loss of -95 percent.

Interesting update, the stock was taken private later for $16 million, a subsequent loss of -79 percent, which took the top-to-bottom loss of more than -99 percent, (Remember my old joke: how do you lose -90 percent? Lose -80 percent and then get cut in half).

I said that one of the reasons that his website wasn’t doing well was that, despite his claims and bluster, his stock picks weren’t that great.

That didn’t stop him from dominating the CNBC airwaves since then, where he’s part of the morning programming and has his own show after the close. On both shows, he promotes an Investing Club, where you can subscribe and get his views on the market and stock picks.

I think it’s about to get interesting, though, because an ETF company is coming out with two Jim Cramer tracker ETFs: one that buys his picks and one that shorts them.

The Cramer ETFs are from Tuttle Investments, which gained some measure of fame in our industry for launching an ETF that bets against Cathy Woods and her ARK funds, which were very hot in the pandemic.

The timing on the short ARK ETF couldn’t have been much better: her fund lost -58.3 percent in the 14 full months since the Tuttle fund was launched (through February), which meant that the short fund gained 38.4 percent.

I heard a lengthy podcast featuring Matt Tuttle, founder of the Tuttle funds on Bloomberg’s Trillions, and it was interesting. He admitted that there was a little gimmickry to these funds, but he also swore up and down that he thinks that they are good investments.

He gave a lot of examples of terrible calls by Jim Cramer, but I wondered whether they would be bad enough to offset the generally rising tide of the market over the long run.

I’ve always thought that financial media personalities like Jim Cramer should publish the results of their recommendations. Cramer claims he has done so, but others have disputed his claims. He constantly refers to his charitable remainder trust, so it would seem easy to get the results, but he’s not required to publish them.

I learned early in my career that anyone without an advisory firm can talk about their track record without backing it up: they are just exercising their First Amendment Right to free speech.

When I was getting going, there were a lot of physical newsletters (that are now digital) and they would make outrageous claims about their performance, knowing that they didn’t really have to worry much about it because they were free to say whatever they wanted.

Later, I was friendly with the head of equity research at a large, independent firm with a brand that everyone knows (but I won’t reveal here). He left to join a Registered Advisor and I called him after a year on his new job to see how it was going.

He said that it was great, but he didn’t realize how hard it was to actually commit client money to his ideas – it was a lot harder than just publishing research pieces. Darn right it’s hard! And we have to live with our decisions for as long as someone is a client in the form of performance reports.

I’m eager to see how the Cramer ETFs work out. I think it will be fun to see what they own, how they change, and what the results are after a while.

I suspect that long fund won’t fare all that well, but it won’t be easy for the short fund either. I also wonder whether Cramer has it in him to change how he talks now that he knows someone is out there putting money where his mouth is. I doubt that too, but we’ll see.