Wall Street analysts take more than their fair share of knocks.
The press has finally figured out that many of these research mavens wear multiple hats. Not only do they pick stocks, but they also act as salespeople and spend time hawking investment banking wares. Wearing these hats can put analysts in conflict with those of us trying to make money in the market. Now whole groups of analysts get routinely blasted as prostitutes or dummies for the industry, or trend-following lambs who only know the way to the slaughterhouse.
The truth, of course, is somewhere in between. A few analysts can't help but make you money and a few inspire you to do the opposite -- and correct thing -- every time. Most are just in between, with a few good calls mingling with the bad.
Except the Wall Street strategists. In an era where the individual analysts are burdened by too many companies to cover, mainly due to the astonishing plethora of companies brought public with a quid pro quo of research coverage, the strategists stand out as clear, perceptive and money-making voices.
I thought of this when a reporter asked me last Friday about whether anybody who runs big pools of money really listens to these gurus, or whether they are just shills for the market or their firms. I think I know the answer he wanted me to give, as I am outspoken in my ability to trash talk those who cost you money.
But I couldn't deliver the hatchet. I couldn't because I find that we are in a renaissance moment for those who make a living calling the market. The vast majority of these folks are really good at what they do, and they make me money all of the time. In an era where I, at 42, seem old, these people tend to be the most experienced and wizened people left on the Street.
Oh, you'd never know it by the conventional press. They just try to spot changes of opinion, and tend to see them even when they aren't there. Witness the bear mauling Abby Joseph Cohen from
just took from the
when she failed to utter the exact same words she had used many other times. As a good client of Goldman I was horrified to learn that she had turned bearish in the press. Because she is so lucid and so helpful, I make it my business to know where Cohen stands all of the time. I thought she must have given a private, boom lowering audience to the Journal, to the detriment of her many respectful clients, who pay out millions in commissions to learn such things.
Wrong. No story there at all. The real story with the majority of analysts is how honest and helpful they really are. I remember sharing the pain of Byron Wien who went negative in 1996 after making people fortunes on the long side for several years. The bearish call was actually a super one. I know it kept me whole during the climatic June/July sell-off. But Byron wasn't nimble enough to get back in at the bottom. That doesn't mean he didn't help clients searching for when to cover their shorts or get back in. I know he was instrumental in helping me figure out that everyone had gotten too negative, a judgment that put me back in the
at the absolute bottom.
But what a ridiculous shot he took from some of the press when he recanted and went bullish, correctly, later in the year with an insinuation by a couple of Lincoln Steffens out there that he did it to help sell the calendar of equity offerings. That's the press at its most stupid and inane. Wien has built his reputation on making money for his clients. I am willing to bet that he has made more money for more money managers than anyone else alive. By a mile. He got back on because he thought he could make clients money. That's what he is all about.
Amazingly, Wien and Cohen aren't the only sages. Only an idiot would pass up a chance to find out what Chuck Clough, the erudite, funny--and at all times salient--strategist at
is saying. Clough got me into bonds at the bottom in 1994. A call of a lifetime. An audience with Clough is always an honor.
I am not close to Greg Smith at
. But I wish I were. His greatest financial story of all time was a piece about why we may be in for a great ride in the market. That piece -- penned several years ago -- remains the best piece of research explaining this bull market. Smith enabled me to get and stay long both the money center banks and technology as he figured out better and faster than anyone that this time it truly was different.
There are too many strategists out there to name individually what I think of everyone. But I will tell you that we are at an exceptional time, when so much high quality talent is there just for pocket change per share. Take it from someone who has spent most of his adult life railing against the mountebanks and charlatans on the street, these gurus deserve their appellation.
James Cramer is manager of a hedge fund and co-chairman of
While he cannot provide investment advice or recommendations, he welcomes your feedback, emailed to