September 26, 2020

The Money Issue: Jim Cramer Hits an All-Time High

Despite their proximity to Manhattan, the Elks of Summit, N.J., seem pretty much like the Elks of Summit, Anywhere — a brotherhood of Main Street businessmen and lawyers, independent contractors and insurance agents. Cramer, though, is the star of “Mad Money,” a frenetic Wall Street show on CNBC, whose audience of day traders and amateur investors tunes in as much for the host’s vaudevillian antics as for his daily stock advice. He is a television personality, and something more; in the words of Mark Hoffman, the president of CNBC, “Jim Cramer has a fistful of Harvard degrees, eight figures in the bank and an I.Q. north of 150.” At the Elks club, or just about anywhere, he stands out.

At the beginning of each episode of “Mad Money,” Cramer states his purpose: “I’m not here to make you friends. I’m here to make you money.” He portrays himself as an insider willing to reveal the moneymaking tricks of the trade to the little guy. During the bull market of the mid-2000s, Cramer’s fans indeed made money in the market (as did most other investors) and had fun doing it.

But when the economy began to collapse three years ago, Cramer became a very visible symbol of what had gone wrong. He famously interviewed Wachovia’s C.E.O. on the air, recommending the stock right before the bank’s shares plummeted. For a brief moment it looked as though the traditional world of Wall Street was destined for drastic reform, and as if Cramer, and other stock-market gurus, would go down with the old regime. That, of course, didn’t happen. Though the rest of the economy is still in a quagmire, the stock market has emerged exultant: Wall Street is its old self, and Cramer has positioned himself again as the people’s stockbroker.

Cramer challenged me to a game of table shuffleboard, two on two. His teammate was Mike Williams, the Exalted Ruler of the lodge and also its bartender. Mine was Mike Haley, a former high-school football star with a degree in industrial arts from Trenton State College. He is Cramer’s best friend and latest role model.

Table shuffleboard isn’t a complicated game, but it is harder than it looks, and it is played with ferocity by the Summit Elks. I wasn’t much good at it, but Haley, a superstar, kept us even. Tied at 20, Cramer slid a disk down the slick table and hung it on the lip — point, game and match. Haley gave Cramer a sportsmanlike pat on the back. It was Haley who brought him into the Elks. Every Thanksgiving Haley holds a backyard touch-football game cum barbecue. A dozen years ago, Cramer, who has lived in Summit since 1995, turned up at his door wearing an Eagles jersey and asked if he could play. Haley had no idea who Cramer was, but he let him in. “Hey, he seemed like a good guy,” Haley told me, laughing.

The joke is that Cramer had a different reputation at the time on Wall Street, where he ran a hedge fund with high-rolling investors and moonlighted as a financial journalist. Cramer was notorious for profanely abusing his subordinates, stabbing friends in the back and using his media connections to enhance his many interests and mock his many rivals.

He got away with this sort of behavior because he was extremely good at making money. “A lot of people who listened to Jim did extraordinarily well,” says Eliot Spitzer, a close friend from their Harvard Law School days whose family invested in his fund, Cramer Berkowitz. From the day he opened it, in February 1987, until the start of 2001, when he abruptly quit the money-managing business, Cramer achieved a 24 percent return, beating the SP 500 index by almost 10 points. “That’s a superb record,” says Jeremy Siegel, a professor of finance at the Wharton School. “Cramer was one of those guys with a magical touch.”

Zev Chafets (zchafets@yahoo.com) is a frequent contributor to the magazine and the author of “Rush Limbaugh: An Army of One.” Editor: Vera Titunik (v.titunik-maggroup@nytimes.com).

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=fb9418468cf12141bd06e62e5c510418

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