Chuck Clough got it wrong. As the excellent article in
The Wall Street Journal
this morning reported, Clough, who will leave
at the end of the year, stayed way too bearish as the firm's chief investment strategist.
For any institutional manager, this is a tough loss. I know that seems counterintuitive because Clough's anti-stock bias must have hurt every Merrill retail broker's business in this great bull market. But if you are an equity guy like me, inclined to want to get long when you think the bonds are going to go your way, guys like Clough are money in the bank.
Years ago, when I was at
, the editor, Steve Swartz, used to pick my brain about who I thought was doing a great job as a strategist. I never hesitated to say, as I still say now, that Byron Wien at
Morgan Stanley Dean Witter
has consistently been the best all-round strategist. He has and always will be my go-to guy when I am confused about something I see. If you aren't covered by his firm and don't see his stuff, I really don't think you should be trading.
But I always praised Clough to Steve because I think Clough has the best handle on the bond market of anybody out there. If you traded stocks when bonds yielded 14% in the early 1980s, you know that the direction of the bond market is the ultimate tell for stocks.
Clough was uncanny in his bond calls. When I got bearish a few years ago about bonds, I had my Merrill Lynch broker bring in Chuck (everybody calls him Chuck, and he is universally loved by every manager I know) just to test my conviction. Needless to say, he talked me right out of my bearish position. It was a lifesaver for me because I was running
dramatically short at the time. I would have been wiped out in my shorts because of the decline in rates that only Clough saw coming at that time.
Alas, the tough thing was he was never able to translate his bond bullishness into stock bullishness, something that seemed like second nature to me. No matter, he made me money. That's still the best tribute I can give someone in this business.
One other note -- when I first got into the hedge fund business, my wife (then my girlfriend and a trader at
), told me that I should go hear Clough speak at a big Merrill Lynch lunch and introduce myself. I questioned why. She insisted that he was an incredibly funny, astute teacher and an all-round great guy who would remember you and take you seriously if you took the time to introduce yourself.
I went. I was spellbound. A Chuck Clough luncheon is so filled with insight, empirical work, charts, graphs, emotion, humor and terrific anecdotes that I felt terrific just being there. And, yes, I took the time to introduce myself. He always remembered me, and he always took my calls thereafter.
Guys like me, guys who sit here and say people are wrong, run one risk: We could end up damning a guy like Clough for being wrong about stocks, when he was dead right about the backdrop that made stocks so perfect for this decade. He should be remembered for the courage to see that yields could go under 5%, which he predicted a few years ago to me.
That was one gutsy call. He will be missed.
OK, journalists there is a new sheriff in town: me.
The other day
, one of
best, broke a big story about Merrill getting close with
. If you
read it here and acted on it, that story was
money in the bank. Subsequently some of the mainstream journalists in print and on the tube matched this story but did not credit
This lack of credit happens
of the time. Maybe it is because we are online and they are off. Maybe it is because their bosses think, "If we just don't credit
, it will just go away." (By the way,
, of all the majors, does not play this way, which is why I like that guy.) Whatever the reason, the policy stinks.
Which is why I am going to do something to shame the bozos who do it. I am giving you cribbers one more week to clean up your act. I know that you may hate us or hate how we are shaking things up in the journalism world. Heck, you can hate me for all I care. But can't you have some respect for your fellow journalists? Do you have any pride at all in your craft?
Starting after Labor Day, if I catch you cribbing without attribution to
, I am going to write you up by name right here. I will do it at the end of a random musings item, as I don't want to waste the valuable time of our readers who are trying to make money. But it will sting. You will be revealed and reviled. And you know I will do it.
Be prepared to wear a scarlet "T" for theft, because that's what you are guilty of. (Memo to Jeannie, my assistant: Get some scarlet Ts made to send out to these reporters, just in case they happen to be among the handful that doesn't read us.) I read everything. You're dead meat.
James J. Cramer is manager of a hedge fund and co-founder of TheStreet.com. At time of publication, his fund had no positions in any stocks mentioned. 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