What have I done?
Yesterday, I promised to watch an entire week of CNBC's Mad Money, just for the sake of having someone else out there in the financial community provide a counterpoint to Jim Cramer's theatrical advice.
It would have been easier to just track his picks and pans on Motley Fool CAPS, but I had to see it myself. Would consuming too much Mad Money make me mad? I guess we'll all find out together.
Last night's show began with a twist that would make M. Night Shyamalan proud. Cramer kicks things off by hyping the opinion of someone who will move the markets today. Just when you figured he'd take the easy way out and name Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, he throws his audience a curve by singling out Oppenheimer's Meredith Whitney. She has been an authoritative bearish voice on the banking sector, and Cramer suggests that her likely somber spin on Geithner's words will be the real market mover.
Well played, Cramer.
An interview with American Public Education (Nasdaq: APEI ) CEO Wally Boston follows. Like most for-profit online educators, Boston's company is thriving in this uncertain climate. Hiring uncertainties bolster enrollment at post-secondary institutions like APE. The company's marketing emphasis is on military personnel, who make up more than two-thirds of its degree-seeking students.
Cramer heaves softballs Boston's way. Does he ever ask hard questions of his guests? Yes, online educators offer cheaper alternatives to conventional campus settings, but isn't it a cutthroat industry? Where are the moats? How do students compensate for the lack of social networking that help land jobs?
Cramer even suggests that online educators will continue to eat away at college enrollment. It's a fair argument, but one that is brutally ironic. After the break, he takes questions from callers and sends shout outs to Auburn, UCF, and Wisconsin based on where the viewers are calling from. Later on he goes on to lightly flirt with a caller from North Carolina, suggesting that they go to a Duke vs. UNC game together.
Yes, here's a guy proclaiming that bricks-and-mortar campuses are being made obsolete by online colleges, yet he can't resist connecting his callers with their nearest institutions of higher learning. Wake me up when it’s tipoff time between the APE Argonauts and Apollo's Chariots.
Boo the boo-yah
Cramer is at his frenetic best -- and worst -- when he dishes out hurried advice to as many callers as he can field, during the lightning round and the slower-paced email responses and pre-screened calls.
Unfortunately, there isn't a lot of consistency in his advice. Earlier in the show he rates Visa (NYSE: V ) as a "solid buy" right now and a "screaming buy" if it dips below $50. Later in the show, a caller wants to know about MasterCard (NYSE: MA ) . Cramer retreats. "Both MA and Visa have spiked," he says, reaching for a cash register sound effect. "When things spike in the market, we have to wait for it to come down."
Solid buy or cash out? How can one stock trigger a charging bull graphic but, when paired with its successful peer, call out the register?
Someone asks about NYSE Euronext (NYSE: NYX ) , coming off a disappointing quarterly report yesterday morning. He's correct to point out that the company is unlikely to bounce back until the IPO market -- and trading in general -- recovers, but he concedes to making a bullish call on the company, just for its 5.5% yield.
Really? Haven't there been enough investors burned after chasing hefty payouts? NYSE Euronext's distributions are sustainable in the near term, but that's a crummy bullish thesis if I ever heard one.
Callers also bring up Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) and Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM ) . His advice is the same, suggesting that viewers wait for pullbacks after recent advances.
"You don't need to pay up for it," he concludes in discussing the BlackBerry maker.
I don't know about that. 15 months ago, Google was trading for nearly twice as much as it is today. Research In Motion has come down even more.
I have another bone to pick with Cramer regarding his bearish call on People's United Financial (Nasdaq: PBCT ) . It's one of the few public banking institutions to have resisted tapping the restrictive TARP funds. Naturally he feels that Oppenheimer's Whitney may torpedo bank stocks this week, but isn't that an even stronger reason to bank on TARP-free banks?
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