Getting a Handle on the Writings of JJC - TheStreet

Sometimes figuring out how to read something is just as important as doing the actual reading itself. When you stroll into a heavy book, a good look at the foreword can offer important insights about what the author is aiming at.

Jim Cramer's

columns don't come with a preface. Hence, I often get emails from readers saying: "Hey, what the heck does Cramer mean by saying this or that !#$%^&@?"

Reading "The Cramer," as we like to call his column, can quickly become complicated. Cramer is a man of incredible energy, passion and emotion. And, often, he lets these aspects of his personality flow directly to the reader. Because Cramer offers a real taste for what's happening in the trading and investing world, his column is invaluable. It's something that simply can't be found anywhere else.

But even the exceptional can grate and confuse. So when you become flummoxed, when you find yourself scratching a hole in your head, refer back to this column. It should provide some clear guidance.

Who is this Cramer?

First off, for those just arriving on the scene, Cramer is a valuable contributor to

TheStreet.com

. He, along with other luminaries such as

Herb Greenberg

,

Helene Meisler

,

Brenda Buttner

and

Gary B. Smith

, help give

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that "must read" quality that sets us apart from other Internet publications.

Cramer cut his teeth at all kinds of places --

Harvard

,

Harvard Law School

and

Goldman Sachs

. For the past several years, he's run a hedge fund stuffed with wealthy individual investors. He appears frequently on

CNBC

and is a sought-after speaker.

Cramer's schedule.

As with everything, a reader must first learn the clockwork of the subject. Knowing when Cramer has written a piece can offer an extra analytical edge. For instance, a piece written during the trading day has a very different pace than a piece written at home or while in transit.

Cramer tends to file like a Chicago voter, early and often. For longtime members, the pattern has become familiar. Starting the day, he tends to have a piece or two up before the opening bell. These stories are generally written on the way home the night before, so the emotions of the previous day are still fresh in the copy.

Sometimes overnight events aren't fully accounted for in these pieces -- be wary of that. Closer to the open, he tends to write a piece from his trading desk, taking into account the flow of data and information freshly arriving at his trading turret.

During the day, Cramer will file columns as he sees or feels things happening. These columns should be read with great care -- they are meant primarily to convey the emotion and sentiment of the moment. Some readers have noted that Cramer's intraday filings have proven brilliant contrarian sentiment indicators -- at least recently. When Cramer became most sullen, markets would turn higher. His enthusiasm would arrive as the market would start running into resistance.

But caution again. As noted, this pattern is a recent phenomenon, and the durability of its accuracy is tough to gauge. In other words, while Cramer has provided nifty contrarian signals for a couple of months, he did not provide such signals last summer. And, recently, he's become less contrarian again.

I suggest that traders and investors read the intraday piece for its emotional content. Moreover, for the at-home trader, it's nice to hear from someone who is out there slinging with you. On especially dark days, a kindred voice can help make the slogging a little more palatable.

Cramer is a trader.

This is the lesson that's forgotten most. Cramer's portfolio is split between long-term plays (more on that later) and short-term trading ideas. His mind is most often absorbed in this short-term view. Be careful here, because his market view could last minutes or seconds.

It's great to hear what he has to say, but don't read something on Thursday and expect to hear the same song on Friday. That's

Abby J. Cohen's

job. In these moments, where he offers a clear view into the trader's skull, enjoy the sights, but don't bank on the duration of the view.

Cramer trades like a banshee.

Quicker than you can read this sentence, he might have been in and out of

Procter & Gamble

(PG) - Get Report

options or shorted and covered some obscure tech stock. He moves big chunks of money quickly, and this gives him the ability to do some things that the at-home trader may find difficult.

Two things here: Short-term trading is generally a professional endeavor, and even the pros struggle. So don't be in a hurry to emulate some miracle 30-second trade -- it's not that different than playing blackjack in Vegas. And there's a reason why those hotels are so big and fancy. It's not because everyone's a winner.

Second, if Cramer gets excited about one thing, realize that the emotion may dissipate at the conclusion of a trade during that hour. Again, learn for the example, but emulation can lead to immolation.

Cramer is emotional.

As many readers have discovered, Cramer tends to fire first and ask questions later. He is very much involved in the market's second-to-second activity and does not have a lot of patience -- especially during the trading session -- for chit-chat or dissension. This mind frame sometimes leads him to write vitriolic pieces.

Cramer tends to be bullish.

Hey, it's worked for him most of the time over the past decade. It's like that old proverb: When things get dark, hairy and scary, we tend to run back to what we know most of all. For Cramer, that's a firm belief that America is in a dominant position to take advantage of the unfolding New World Economy. That view has been an overall winning view for more than 10 years.

He believes that the technology-driven economic changes will benefit U.S. companies -- and U.S. stocks -- above all. This world view will make Cramer slower to turn bearish and sometimes a little quick to turn bullish. Keep that in mind when reading about his market mood.

Cramer on macro ideas.

When I worked at

The Wall Street Journal

, I had a self-made rule. I didn't let economists comment on the stock market; I didn't let stock-market experts comment on the economy. Cramer, for the most part, is a stock guy.

As a stock guy, he's great when he's talking about stocks. But when he wanders over to the macro world -- interest rates,

Fed

moves, bonds, currency, international policy -- be aware that he's very smart, very well read and very much a stock guy. So take his ideas from whence they come.

He may have a great insight on the Fed -- for instance, calling for them to ease aggressively, as he did recently -- but it's coming from a gut-like place, rather than from some fancy economic model. That said, it's important to read what he has to say on these big issues. It gives you a flavor for how Wall Street, as a group, is thinking. Moreover, a Cramer column can give you surprisingly jarring moments of insight in these big areas, primarily because he is not wed to the models. This would be using Cramer as an "outside agent" thought instigator. It can work beautifully.

Cramer's disclosure.

Ever since starting, we've used the strictest disclosure standards with Cramer, asking him to reveal positions of stocks mentioned in his column. We follow the rules that have suited other well-known columnists such as

Allan Sloan

of

Newsweek

. When writing about a stock you hold a position in, let the readers know.

But these positions can change at any time, and I strongly discourage you from using the disclosure as anything other than information to help you see where Cramer is coming from on a certain topic. Use Cramer and other stories on

TheStreet.com

as a starting point for your own research, never as an endpoint.

Some note that while staff members do not hold positions in stocks, Cramer and other contributors do. The reasoning is simple: In the newsroom, we want to have a free and open exchange of ideas, we want to discuss stories before they're published and we don't want to worry about staff members having positions in these stocks. Contributors outside the office, like Cramer, follow the disclosure rules. The staff in the office follow our strict no-stock-ownership rules. Staff members can invest in mutual funds, and we disclose those fund holdings when a staffer writes about those funds.

Cramer's media obsessions.

This is pretty simple. He doesn't like a lot of the financial publications he reads. That's probably why he started

TheStreet.com

, along with

Martin Peretz

. He tells you how he feels, and he is particularly grouchy about

Dow Jones

.

Back when he worked for

SmartMoney

, from launch and into its formative years, Cramer became embroiled in a controversy surrounding one of his columns. He wrote about some small stocks. The magazine failed to disclose his positions. The stocks went up. Much hoo-hah about that -- even an

SEC

inquiry. But Cramer never sold the stocks he wrote about as they rose higher. Moreover, the disclosure mistake was not his, but that of

SmartMoney

. So Cramer saves a special amount of vitriol for his old mates. As always, take that with a grain of salt.

Cramer as Mulder.

Sometimes the Cramer wanders into the

X-Files

zone, and that's when things can turn a little wacky. I've never asked him about black helicopters, but I have called him "Grassy Knoll" Cramer at times. You can usually see Cramer morphing into

Fox Mulder

when he writes intently about the media covering the markets or about strange movements in stocks.

And, of course, Mulder -- while at times a little strange -- is often the fellow on the right track. The truth is out there. Cramer's hunting for it -- on your behalf.

Cramer's shop.

This is a funny thing, because a lot of people like to play Mulder to Cramer, imagining that Cramer works in the shadows at

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. In fact, several times I have hosted media folks -- wise editors and producers -- who have asked to see Cramer's office here at

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. It's not here.

Cramer's office is at

Cramer Berkowitz

, a good walk across town from

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. Cramer sometimes comes to

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for board meetings (he's a director), but often participates by phone at these meetings.

As for other involvement: Cramer writes. Often. And Cramer offers me frequent critiques of how good (or bad) our writing and reporting is. Cramer has no say in editorial. He does not talk to us about individual stocks.

Cramer's email:

When we first launched

TheStreet.com

and had subscriber numbers in the low thousands, Cramer made it a point to answer his own email personally. With tens of thousands of subscribers, that's simply not possible anymore -- his life would grind to a halt. Now, his

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mail is answered by our member-service department. If the mail does not concern an individual stock, it's forwarded to him for his review. He does his best to read as much mail as possible.

If you have a complaint about Cramer, a story idea or anything else you want to say about

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, you'd best

contact me. On that score, he won't be able to help you.