James J. Cramer

James J. Cramer

A weeklong electronic journal.
Feb. 20 1997 3:30 AM

James J. Cramer

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       I used to be interesting.
       Oh, I can spin any tale you'd like, provided it involves a listed or NASDAQ stock. I know millions of symbols and closing prices. Going back for years. But stray away from the business section, and I was more intelligent in the 1970s.
       Take last night. Before I went to sleep I was reading about my current obsession, the Eastern Front, and I came across this incredible detail, that Col.-Gen. Heinz Guderian had commandeered Yasnaya Polyana, Tolstoy's estate, during the winter of 1941. It was from that estate that Guderian ordered the first German retreat in World War II, the pullback from the outskirts of Moscow.
       I thought about this while listening to a replay of the Hewlett-Packard conference call this morning. Instead of trying to figure out whether Hewlett's good or bad--upside surprise on earnings, but totally because of gross margins, as revenues weren't so hot--I found myself daydreaming about that moment at Yasnaya Polyana when the ghost of Tolstoy stopped the Wermacht. Great irony if Guderian had read War and Peace. Terrific short story or a play. Not that I'll ever write it.
       But that's OK, I rationalize. That's why I crank things out for The Street. So at least I am doing something creative, unless you call making rich people super rich creative. My full-time profession, hedge-fund manager, ranks below journalists and politicians in terms of improvement to the commonweal. With The Street, I can tell people how this market stuff really works.
       Looks like the Hewlett quarter is bad, but not so bad that the shorts will make a dime. In fact, I am trying to buy some Hewlett in the third market ahead of the opening because my judgment is that Hewlett actually trades up despite the so-so report. Too many people are betting against the company. I figure to make a point and a half, as the bears capitulate into a reign of big-cap lust for down-and-out tech.
       Figuring out the Hewletts is really what I do for a living. Everybody on the conference call, heck, everybody who follows tech, understands now that Hewlett's comeback is taking a little longer, that Europe is still crummy, that the United States is still competitive, that the strong dollar is hurting them. What I do is put a price tag to all that. I decide--whether at $50.25 Hewlett reflects all that, or whether it reflects only the negative parts and not the positive. I haggle over what that information is worth.
       So do others. I win if I can figure it out faster than others. It's not like the old days when some half-dozen people had the information and the rest of us were trading blind. Everybody has the same set of facts simultaneously--there is virtually nothing offline--so my only edge is that I can arrive at the suggested price faster than others. It's a small edge, but it's like knowing that the blackjack deck's got plenty of face cards left in it--enough to make a whopping good bet most of the time.
       Twenty minutes to the opening and everyone around my office is wondering when I am going to close this laptop and help them figure out what to do. I've bought 42,500 shares of Hewlett at $52.60.
       By 10:30 this morning, I've sold the lot at $56.