Give Alan Abelson a free subscription, please! Comp that Barron's curmudgeon with
RealMoney, where thoughtful practitioners debate the pros and cons of stocks. Comp him with Action Alerts PLUS, my personal portfolio where I put up my own money to buy stocks -- and give subscribers an opportunity to act before I do (and which is up 13.45% since Jan. 1, 2002, vs. the S&P 500's drop of 0.84%, despite stringent restrictions). Comp this incessant critic of our accomplishments with Street Insight, where the toughest managers grit it out and tell you the inside story, positive and negative, behind what's moving stocks. Comp him with all of our e-newsletters that help people make money daily. And most of all, comp him with research from Independent Research Group, our wholly owned brokerage that caters to the brainiest and neediest of investors, the hedge funds, with pointed, action-oriented buy and sell recommendations, and does no investment banking to intrude on the decision-making process. Last week, when I was vacationing in Italy with my family, Mr. Abelson launched one of his quarterly ad hominem critiques of me and the institution that has become TheStreet.com. I didn't know about his remarks until I received email from well-wishers telling me not to fret and to keep going, to soldier on with what I -- and we -- are trying to accomplish here. I was tempted, as my nine-year-old daughter quickly grasped, to just write it off as jealousy and ignore the riposte totally, as I have done many times before. But I can't stand to see the record -- either our company's record or my own -- so severely distorted by this man and the institution he represents, Barron's, part of the Dow Jones family of publications, which I both respect and regard as partners in my day-to-day work at CNBC. To remain silent is to have Abelson's remarks cloud what I am about and what TheStreet.com is about. In fact, I think it is time to analyze why Mr. Abelson criticizes me, because it is at the heart of the differences between us. For as long as I have been reading Mr. Abelson, he has been about two things: being bearish and touting the pans of a handful of money managers that he never scrutinizes. He is not about running money. He is not about trying to help others make money. He is not about trying to understand the market. He is about dogma and favorites and pet peeves. In fact, I believe that I have been the target of so much of his wrath because I pointed out all of this unhelpful misery and lack of accountability when we first started TheStreet.com. One of my original pieces in this publication critiqued and mocked the signature item of Barron's, the roundtable. In that column, I gleefully pointed out how none of the friends of Alan ever had to own up to how bad their picks were. I also pointed out on numerous occasions how wrong Mr. Abelson's pans were. For that, I certainly deserve his antipathy. My wife, Karen, says I courted it.
My ethos could not be more different from Mr. Abelson's. First, I am a practitioner, and I chronicle my every move in Action Alerts PLUS, my private money that I run publicly. I never shirk from admitting my mistakes; instead, I dwell on them to learn from them. I change my mind, I take losses, I own up to them -- all things that are emphatically antithetical to Abelson's style. Second, from the very beginning of TheStreet.com, from its inception, I strove to have as many negative voices and voices opposite mine, if only because I was so repulsed by the negative, anti-accountable group-think that was that of Barron's and Mr. Abelson. Third, despite the repeated attempts by Mr. Abelson to portray me and this company as dot-com bull-market flameouts, we, in our seventh year, are nicely profitable on a cash flow basis, and are expanding into honest brokerage while simultaneously building cash. I don't ask Mr. Abelson to acknowledge that we are here to stay; that would be asking too much. I am asking that we at least be acknowledged as one of the few companies that survived a brutal period and have prospered despite the naysayers, of whom the principal survival-denier is indeed Mr. Abelson. Finally, I completely reject his characterization of me as a terrible money manager who has repeatedly encouraged buying and holding bad speculative companies. First, there's an empirical record that is never referred to in any of his diatribes: my 24% compound after all fees at Cramer Berkowitz. Can any manager claim to have beaten me over the 14-year period that I managed my hedge fund? Second, as far as my
Winners of the New World speech, which my critics endlessly and scathingly refer to, I have said repeatedly in these pages and others that I was asked to give a speech about what my hedge fund owned and why. I didn't want to do it; I didn't want to because at my hedge fund, I changed my mind when I thought the market dictated it and I didn't want to be locked into any position. But I was asked and I delivered. Anyone who reads me knows that in the next month, I said that I was, alas, too bullish and I urged people to take things off the table, including my own recommendations. Not long after that, I suggested that the surge in tech was over and I detailed repeatedly that the so-called "Red Hot" stocks that I had praised had become shorts because we had gone from being in a bull market to being in a bear market. I admitted that I was buying bonds for the first time in my life, an excellent call that the naysayers would sooner go to their grave than admit I made.
I don't want to replay history. My record and my writings are all archived. I have nothing to hide from or be ashamed about, just a series of calls, many good, some not so good. In the end, the market, unlike Mr. Abelson, has spoken. It has said that our institution and my stock-picking are both valid and successful and are sought after by the investing public. The fact that I have earned the life-long enmity of this fellow would be comical if it weren't so ridiculously unfair and gratuitously wrong. I have spent a lifetime explaining why certain stocks go higher, even stocks that shouldn't, like some of the speculative examples that Mr. Abelson claims I adore. I have done so in order to chronicle why stocks go up and down, not whether they should. Perhaps I should make more moral judgments, but in the end, I know that being right means making money, not losing money, and that's a prescription some pundits are constitutionally unable to fill. There was a time in my life when I was much more combative, when I truly sought the fire, sought the flame, sought the controversy. I was the anti-ambassador of goodwill. I have striven consciously to put that behind me. But there are others who are like that character I thought I left behind at the hedge fund -- angry, mean at times, and certainly capable of ad hominem exaggerations simply spurred on by the desire to embarrass and dismay opponents. There are others, I guess, who can't or won't understand what I am about, or what TheStreet.com is about, and the positive impact we've made here. For those, I say, comp them, because it is never too late for the facts to get in the way of a good negative story, and, alas, it is most certainly never too late for redemption.