There are two Jim Cramers.
On CNBC, he is cable television's Mr. Hyde, a shrill, hyperactive tsunami of opinions about stocks. A June MarketWatch column critical of his shenanigans sparked a blizzard of responses, with reader e-mail fairly evenly divided, underscoring the notion that people, quite clearly, love or hate Cramer.
In his Jekyll incarnation, Cramer is the restrained, informative author of "The Bottom Line" column that runs in New York magazine. When you read one of his pieces on investing, the word that jumps out is "authentic." He sure knows his stuff.
The difference between him and a lot of the so-called media experts -- many of whom regularly chat on CNBC, by the way -- is that he offers a rare, practical perspective.
Any schnook can go on TV and crow about his occasional stock-market victories. What's more instructive for viewers is hearing the war stories of an investor who has rebounded after losing money. It's similar to a boxer who gets knocked down but comes back and heroically wins a bout. Cramer can take a punch.
Cramer, a Philadelphia native who graduated from Harvard in 1977, started his career as a newspaper journalist. He subsequently joinedin 1984 and left three years later to launch a hedge fund.
"It was to be the beginning of a shrewd career on Wall Street where he compounded at (a) 24% return after all fees for the next 15 years," as Cramer's New York magazine biography points out.
His wealthy clients got their money's worth: Cramer said in a 2005 interview that he got to the office by 4 a.m. Further, he sometimes made as many as 250 trades a day.
Cramer went on to co-foundand continues to write for the Web site. But likely because those stories are geared for an online audience, they tend not to have the same long-term view as his mostly monthly pieces in New York.
Among magazine business journalists, perhaps only Allan Sloan of Newsweek can rival Cramer. On that score, it's a mystery why Time, which has been fortifying its columnist ranks, hasn't poached Cramer already. (Or perhaps it's simply that Cramer's allegiance is an example of the loyalty that New York writers reserve for its editor, Adam Moss).
An advocate for individual investorsIn his magazine writing, Cramer plays the role of an advocate for the individual investor and isn't reluctant to offer advice.
He predicts, for instance, in his Jan. 8 magazine piece that such companies as, , and could be taken over this year "by overseas entities taking advantage of a declining greenback."
In the same column, he urged his readers to "take the shotgun approach and buy your favorites among the above candidates for acquisition. But I think even better is the rifle approach. Pick, to extend the metaphor, the original arms merchants for all of these deals: the investment banks." The teams at Goldman Sachs, vigs from these deals."He doesn't shy away from expressing strong opinions about powerful institutions. and other companies, he wrote, "will all get fat
Last April, he wrote of: "One could be tempted to write off the whole New York Times as a similar dinosaur. If all we care about is what we want to customize, who needs all the other filler? Why not preselect everything we need from the Times via and be done with the paper entirely?"
Nobody is safe from Cramer's acidic perspective.
In February 2006, Cramer opined: "Some businesses are so reprehensible, so impossibly exploitative that they simply must be bought. Okay, that may not sound like sage investment advice, but given the Bush administration's wanton embrace of corporate interests, investing in a portfolio of companies you couldn't stand to work for without having a camp-guard mentality, a collection of stocks so motley in morals on the face of it, might be a solid bet right now. In a country where the top 1% of households controls 57.5% of corporate wealth, if you aren't thinking about ways to profit from our squeezed middle class, if you are still stuck in the mindless chasm of politically correct investing, you could be leaving fortunes on the table."
Yes, Cramer's "Mad Money" TV show is a monster hit. But he doesn't need the shows' bells and whistles to make a point as a magazine columnist. He's sharp enough when he sticks to using words alone.
That's the real bottom line about Jim Cramer.
This article was reported and written by Jon Friedman for MarketWatch.