Trading Against Cramer Just Got Harder

Last March, I wrote about a new pair of exchange-traded funds (ETFs) that track the bets of Jim Cramer, the host of Mad Money, known as much for his bright lights, loud sounds, and yelling as he is for his investment advice or track record (here’s a link to my article).

One of the ETFs would short his stock picks, betting that the picks would fall, and the other went long his predictions and would make money if he was right.

I thought it was funny, and I was a little curious about how they would turn out. Well, I didn’t notice it, but the ETF that went long his ideas closed last September due to insufficient investor interest.

In its short life of six months, the long ETF made 5.3 percent during a time when the S&P 500 made 13.7 percent. So the picks weren’t great, but it was better than the ETF that shorted stocks, which lost -6.1 percent during that time frame.

The short fund is still around, but with $2.4million in it, I doubt it will be around much longer.

Dedicated short funds struggle, with or without Cramer, because they are fighting a generally rising market. One of the investors I admire most, Jim Chanos, closed his long-running hedge fund dedicated to shorting.

Chanos uncovered the fraud at Enron and enjoyed a series of big successes, but it was still hard to fight the tide. I’m sorry to see him retire because I always thought he seemed brilliant when I heard him on podcasts.

Although dedicated short-selling is hard, that’s not my main point: novelty funds are a waste of time (Chanos wasn’t a novelty; he was extraordinarily serious). The long Cramer fund was just one of 224 ETFs that closed last year,

The problem is that the ETF industry is a business like any other, and if ETF providers think that there is a market for something, they will create a product to meet that demand.

As a result, a lot of junk gets created, although the market often works because a lot of them fold in shortly thereafter.

There’s a fun website called ETF Deathwatch that tracks funds that are likely to close, and I look at it once or twice a year to see what’s on it and make sure none of our funds are!

Actually, our funds are never on the list because we look for ETFs with broad mandates (as opposed to MUSQ, which invests in global music industry stocks), lots of liquidity, and tight bid-offer spreads, which have stood the test for three years.

We will make exceptions for some of these things, but not very often and with good reason. For example, when Dimensional Funds offered ETFs, we didn’t wait for three years to buy them because we knew they would be well supported in a variety of important ways.

It’s not as exciting to avoid the fun stuff like an ETF that shorts Cramer’s stock picks, but that’s not sensible long-term investing.