Institutions, Get in the After-Hours Game

Cramer's attempt to trade Gateway last night illustrates that just as individuals have flocked to after-hours trading, institutions couldn't care less.
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We had just finished up for the day.

Jeff Berkowitz

and I had already reviewed our trading, putting a post-mortem on what we had done right and what we had done wrong. I had groused that the turn in

NDX

, while blunted, was still a successful one. Jeff held back judgment. He wasn't so sure.

Sometimes when you are on the battlefield, you can't be sure who won. Things can be so disjointed and fractured. At one point during the last 15 minutes of trading, I asked out loud in our trading room whether the "press" would regard this session as a good or a bad session. I could hear the groaning: "Who cares how those clueless bozos view it?" But I know better. More money will come in if the market story is presented as a turn, then a turn that failed.

No matter. We thought the day was done.

Just when we were opening big bottles of water (30 years ago would that have read "bad Scotch"?) and putting our feet up, the news came out about

Gateway

(GTW)

. My first thought, for some reason, was toward the Korean War, which I have been reading a lot about lately, when endless human waves of Chinese soldiers kept attacking our troops long after they should have stopped and gone to sleep. Don't they know everybody wants to go home?

We quickly assumed our turrets, making calls, asking where

Compaq

(CPQ)

was, where

Dell

(DELL) - Get Report

was, trying to figure out semiconductor demand and supply on the fly. Almost immediately, I wanted to buy

Intel

(INTC) - Get Report

, nothing new there, while Jeff wanted to let people be scared into selling Intel at lower prices, so we could get better buys. He's right, of course. I am too eager. (I did not say "childlike," but you therapists out there -- and we have a monster number of those reading us -- can draw your own conclusions.)

Join the discussion on

TSC

Message Boards.

Mostly, though, we just wanted to go home. You can't just "go home," however, when a major stock like Gateway blows up. It's too big. It rewrites the battlefield. It puts unpaid to the day. It changes everything. Suddenly whether the NDX turned is an irrelevancy. It would not have turned had this news come out at 3:30 p.m. instead of 4:30 p.m.

As we checked trading desks, however, I realized that nobody was home. Yet these stocks were trading vigorously, somewhere out there in the do-it-yourself ether. None of the brokers I deal with was trading any of these names. In fact, they had pretty much put their coats on and gone home. Without knowing it, we had switched to the "at-home" version of the stock market for Gateway. The one that many of you play. Not the one that I play.

In fact, you could feel the creeping irrelevance of the traditional brokers last night. The institutional houses don't even want to be bothered past 4 p.m. For them, nothing has changed. The individual revolution is a big yawn. "Tell me what

Fidelity

wants to do, not Joe Blow." But for the people at home in the East and for people out West, the whole thing seemed quite arbitrary. They were ready to play. And wanted to.

So they played among themselves.

Yes, the critical mass of after-hours traders is ready and waiting. They just don't work at the brokerage firms. Or place their orders there. I saw that last night.

Everybody in our business likes to go home. But it is time for some institution to start a second shift and get all of this post-4 p.m. business. It is silly for someone not to break ranks and make some nice two-way markets after the bell. Too many people are not putting their feet up, opening up big waters and talking about the playoffs, or the latest movies, or where they are going to eat.

They want to trade. Someone, please, take advantage of it, with some scale, so everybody who wants to can play. The time to do it is now.

Random musings:

Got stuck behind the changing of the cones that goes on at 4:15 a.m. every morning at the Holland Tunnel. Next to me were nine trucks bringing today's

New York Daily News

into the city. The silliness of that method of distribution vs. this one continues to astound me even as everyone has once again decided that the newspapers are back because of dot-com advertising. The irony drives me crazy.

James J. Cramer is manager of a hedge fund and co-founder of TheStreet.com. At time of publication, his fund was long Compaq and Intel. His fund often buys and sells securities that are the subject of his columns, both before and after the columns are published, and the positions that his fund takes may change at any time. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks. Cramer's writings provide insights into the dynamics of money management and are not a solicitation for transactions. While he cannot provide investment advice or recommendations, he invites you to comment on his column at

jjcletters@thestreet.com.