I want to be clear what I mean when I say Cramer gives "terrible investment advice." I do not mean that Cramer's "picks," such as they are, have underperformed the market—although at least one observer concludes that, in 2006, they were left in the dust. (The Mad Money Machine calculated that Cramer's picks returned 0.2 percent in 2006 versus 22.5 percent for a portfolio of passive index funds.) I also don't mean that Cramer doesn't occasionally say smart things about companies, stocks, and investing.
What I mean is that, once the poor odds of speculation success are considered (even mutual-fund managers have, at best, a one-in-four chance of beating the market), and once one notes that Cramer's "stock-picking" advice suffers from several additional hurdles (below), it seems extremely unlikely that Cramer's basic investment strategy, "Watch TV, Get Rich," could ever be intelligent for an unsophisticated individual investor. These hurdles include:
- The advice is delivered on TV, in books, on the radio, or in columns, where every other investor on the planet has access to it. (The only way to beat the market is to know something that other investors don't.)
- The advice is often delivered after the market close, so prices adjust before anyone can place a trade. (The market is pretty efficient.)
- The advice is often delivered in an informal stream-of-consciousness rather than through clear actions in a portfolio composed of specific positions, weightings, and trade dates—thus ignoring real-world portfolio-management considerations.
- The recommendations are, to my knowledge, usually given without regard to research, transaction, tax, and opportunity costs. Once such costs are taken into account, even apparently "good" advice is often revealed to be worse than a passive strategy.
In short, my definition of "bad investment advice" is a recommendation that is likely to make you less money or expose you to greater risk than would a diversified portfolio of low-cost passive index funds. I am highly confident that, once costs are taken into account, Cramer's advice is, by this definition, terrible.