Staring at me, down from the newsstand, when I went to get some magazines this weekend was the smiling face of Garrett Van Wagoner, gracing the cover of
Kiplinger's Personal Finance Mutual Funds 2001, the Smart Investor's Guide.
Van Wagoner's funds may be the first to be down 70% in this very young year, so I had to pick up the interview.
Lo and behold, it is just as I thought, another paean to losses, another rationalization of investment style, another out-and-out attempt to confuse what Van Wagoner does with investing.
To refresh, Van Wagoner runs his funds full-out, relentlessly searching for the highest-growth portion of tech. His goal is to provide you with the highest risk and highest reward that is out there. When things are good, he is breathtaking. He was up 249% in the past three years.
When things are bad, though, he is awful. Hence his terrible performance this year as a major bet on Internet infrastructure --
is his largest position -- went completely awry.
In the business of professional money management, we disdain the Van Wagoners, as much as magazines like
fawn over them. We know that anybody can shoot the lights out. That's a game easily played. The trick is not to blow away on the upside and underperform on the downside -- anybody can do that. The trick is to deliver consistently good performance so that people who come in when you have just taken the fund to unsustainable heights don't lose a massive amount of money.
Somehow, we have come to praise the gunners. If Van Wagoner were a basketball player, he would be one of those guys who can hit three-pointer after three-pointer, but play no defense whatsoever. He would cost you far more games than he can win you in the end and you wouldn't play him.
Instead, we anoint him.
Magazines and business journalists in general tend not to understand the process of running peoples' money. They fall prey to the notion that a Van Wagoner is a good manager because he has massive numbers at times.
I hope you don't fall prey to that same set of unrigorous conclusions. One of the precepts we're dedicated to here is to revealing those "styles" of money management that are careless or devastating to your dollars.
Van Wagoner is exhibit A of that style. He doesn't deserve cover-boy treatment.
James J. Cramer is a director and co-founder of TheStreet.com. He contributes daily market commentary for TheStreet.com's sites and serves as an adviser to the company's CEO. Outside contributing columnists for TheStreet.com and RealMoney.com, including Cramer, may, from time to time, write about stocks in which they have a position. In such cases, appropriate disclosure is made. While he cannot provide personalized investment advice or recommendations, he invites you to send comments on his column to