Out of the Office, but Not Out of the Loop

A cell phone is a trader's best friend. Here's a lesson on how to stay on top of things when you're out, or even when you're in.
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Ten years ago when I had to be on the road, I found myself wishing for a tranquilizer to control the out-of-control feelings I had with no PC, no

ILX

and no way of accessing quotes. Now, though, with cell phones and a partner like

Jeff Berkowitz

, even a day like today, when we were moving from our old Bucks County, Pa., house, I didn't feel out of touch.

Of course, there was nothing momentous about today. Nothing that made me put the whole move on hold and bolt to the office, which I have done many times, or nothing that smacked of a crisis that would have my wife loading a dumpster instead of just handing things off to me.

Still, you have to know how to do it, what to ask, what to relate to, in order to make it a productive day. Many of you are now part-time traders, so I thought it would help to tell you what I look for and ask about on those very rare days when I am not in the office.

My first call, around 6:30 a.m., was to ask about Europe, particularly London and Finland. This morning

Nokia

(NOK) - Get Report

was off one-half, and as I was aware of a big contract headed Nokia's way, courtesy of an adept friend in London, I managed to snare off about a point while I checked in.

At 8:20 a.m. I checked to see how the bonds were trading, and because oil was so high, I inquired about that. (If gold were running, or aluminum, I would have liked to have known that, too.) Then I waited about 20 minutes and got an early rundown of the research. Today

Morgan

pushed the semis, including a couple I was long, so I asked Jeff to see if he could buy more of any of those roughly in line or up one-half on

Instinet

. Nothing doing. They had already ramped before the market opened.

At 9:15 a.m. I checked again for upgrades and downgrades, and there was nothing major. I then asked again about the bonds. As they were soggy, I immediately eliminated banks and drugs as possible stocks we could buy in my absence.

Jeff informed me about some sort of

Ericsson

(ERICY)

nastiness, and -- as I am so used to ERICY trading with Nokia and

Motorola

(MOT)

-- I braced myself for weakness in both. I urged Jeff to scalp a dollar in Nokia while checking to see if we should buy more MOT down a couple -- we ended up doing so.

At 10:00 a.m. I again asked about the bonds, as well as whether any research calls were impacting the stock market. I wanted to know whether pushes were working or not or whether there was an overriding theme. Jeff said that it looked like there was a program that brought the market down artificially on Tuesday. If that's the case, I said,

Microsoft

(MSFT) - Get Report

,

General Electric

(GE) - Get Report

and a couple of other big-caps should do well. (If the bonds were solid I would have been itching to buy some

Chase Manhattan

(CMB)

or

Citigroup

(C) - Get Report

ahead of the quarter.)

Sure enough, Mister Softee was already up a buck and a half and Jeff had sold some of the stock we had bought the day before at the bell, betting that a program had wreaked the havoc. Good call on Mister Softee, but we missed GE, and the stock ramped.

I then asked how the

DOT

was. (I did not ask how the

Dow Jones Internet

index was because no one trades that, and I was more interested in how the true Net plays are working.) We like to buy Net stocks when they are down big, but nothing was flashing red that intrigued me except some

priceline.com

(PCLN)

and

Yahoo!

(YHOO)

, so we grabbed a little of those.

Then I wanted to know what was DOWN the most because that's where opportunity beckons. When I heard about the holocaust that was

New Era of Networks

(NEON) - Get Report

and

Waste Management

(WMI)

, both Jeff and I wondered whether the momentum funds that had played havoc in 1996 were up to their old tricks, buying things up to ridiculous levels and then trashing them. I also congratulated Jeff on not having bought NEON and he congratulated me on not pushing him on Waste. (Brokers had wanted us in both names right up until today's slaughter.)

Worrisome trend when the mo-mos go nuts as they did on these stocks. I then gave Jeff a break for a couple of hours but came back to ask about specific groups that were weak. When Jeff mentioned oil-service sloppiness, I said we had to buy some

Schlumberger

(SLB) - Get Report

, because with oil at $20 a barrel the analyst community is all over these stocks any time they are down and you can make some quick money. He did.

At this point I asked Jeff about our core portfolio. These are the names I never talk about because they are thin and because I am afraid that if I mention them even in a remotely positive light someone will accuse me of trying to manipulate them. (That is why I always use

National Gift

, my Dad's company.) I was not so interested in finding out how the stocks were doing as I was about whether we had checked in with any of the companies to see how the fundamentals were. One of our smaller-caps was up nicely and I wanted to know if there was any news. He said he checked in and there was nothing going on. (His check-in consists of calling the company and asking the investor relations person or whoever the point person is for shareholders with questions.)

I also chatted with the movers at lunch, both of whom wanted to know why I haven't been on

CNBC

lately. I explained that I will be on next Wednesday. Seems like I get that a lot lately. I explained that I wish I were on more, 'cause I love that show, but that's the way it is.

At 2 p.m. I asked about the bonds and buy and sell program activity. I also asked what was going wrong and right. Today was it MOT and GE on the wrong side -- we pulled too much of a trigger in MOT and no trigger at all in GE, and Mister Softee on the right side, as it is our largest position.

We also discussed how the

CYC

and the

CMR

and

MSH

were. These are three Morgan Stanley indices for cyclicals, consumers and high-tech stocks. They gave me some flavor to see if I needed to sell some

International Paper

(IP) - Get Report

or

Georgia-Pacific

(GP)

or buy some

Alcoa

(AA) - Get Report

on the earnings weakness (no, no and no). I skipped the

BKX

and the

DRGs

because the bonds were not our friends today (bank and drug indices).

I let things go until 3:55 p.m., mostly because my wife wanted to kill me by that time for how many times I had called the office. Then I called again and urged Jeff to buy a little more of a couple of faves that are off, and I suggested that he hold on to

AlliedSignal

(ALD)

despite the ramp because it sounds like it might be a good quarter.

At 4:08 p.m. he tallied the day, gave me a recap and issued a report card. We talked about our mistakes and our triumphs. We went over what is on tap for tomorrow. Had I been in the office this discussion would have been held at 3:30 p.m.

We made money; heck, that is what it is about, last I looked. So while I feel tired from the move I feel great about the profit and loss. I told him I would be in tomorrow at 4:30 a.m., work out and then listen to a Yahoo! replay of the conference call if one is available.

Since I feel like I let people down today in this unplanned outage -- the move was supposed to take three hours but it took nine -- I wanted to send this off.

Random musings

: Emotional day. When I worked with my wife we would routinely take off Thursdays and Fridays and trade out of our house in Bucks County. It was so fabulous. We could play with our young daughter, see my dad (who lives nearby) and have a great time while we made some money. But the fund got too big, the job too hard and then, after our second child, my wife stopped trading. For years she held out that I would slow down and we would go back to some sort of day off at Bucks County where I could benignly check in, but I just couldn't do it. Two years ago she remade my office into a bedroom.

No matter, the township we were in changed the zoning laws and poof! our farm, surrounded by other farms, became fortress farm in the midst of a massive suburb. In the end it was barely a retreat and it was time to go. The memories, however, will always be there.

Back to my usual sked tomorrow.

James J. Cramer is manager of a hedge fund and co-founder of TheStreet.com. At time of publication, his fund was long Yahoo!, AlliedSignal, International Paper, Georgia-Pacific, Microsoft, Motorola, Nokia and priceline.com. 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.