I've got a red-hot icebreaker for you.
The next time you find yourself in a dwindling social situation, where it seems as if the conversation is running on fumes, just fling the following question into the mix:
"What do you think about Jim Cramer?"
It's as easy as that. Cramer is a polarizing figure. Some people love him. Some people hate him. Either way, everybody has an opinion on financial journalism's reigning rock star.
I'll confess to being entertained -- and on occasion enlightened -- by the Mad Money star. However, there is nothing I hate more than when Cramer opens up the phones to kick off the Mad Money Lightning Round.
In rat-a-tat-tat fashion, callers will swap boo-yahs and holler a ticker symbol Cramer's way. They'll get a snappy line or two in response, occasionally with a silly sound effect as an exclamation point.
It may be entertaining to watch, but it's the equivalent of nails against a chalkboard to me as an investor. After all, we're all looking for stock ideas. It's just not right to boil down due diligence to the ring of a cash register or a charging bull.
Every lightning round finds me with the same three-word plea that is never heeded by Cramer.
"Tell me more!"
Walk a short mile in Cramer's long shoes
Let's play a game. I'm going to pretend to be hosting Cramer's lightning round. And you're going to throw out the names of some of my favorite stocks. I'm going to splice out all of the ego-massaging banter and get right to the nitty-gritty one-liners.
- E*TRADE (Nasdaq: ETFC ) : That talking baby tells it like it is. Goo, goo, gah, gah, buy, buy.
- MercadoLibre (Nasdaq: MELI ) : Just say "si" to Latin America's eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY ) .
- Ancestry.com (Nasdaq: ACOM ) : How do you turn a family tree into a money tree? Just ask Ancestry.com.
- Sirius XM Radio (Nasdaq: SIRI ) : Stern or no Stern come 2010, this stock is a buy-buy-booey. Premium radio is the future.
Did any of that work for you? I hope not. It may be a worthwhile exercise to boil down a stock's buy thesis to a Cramer sound bite or a cocktail-napkin scribble, but you really need to know more than what five seconds of a talking head will tell you.
E*TRADE still has a few mortgage portfolio demons to shake off, but its discount brokerage business continues to take baby steps forward. If sector consolidation doesn't find shareholders cashing out at a reasonable premium through a TD AMERITRADE (Nasdaq: AMTD ) or Charles Schwab (Nasdaq: SCHW ) buyout, the fundamentals will have to do it.
MercadoLibre may have many of the same components as eBay with its popular online marketplace and PayPal-esque financial platform, but the company is also on a growth tear. Revenue grew a whopping 47% in its latest quarter.
Ancestry.com is profiting from the natural curiosity to trace family roots. The site recently topped the million-subscriber mark. Even during last year's recession, revenue still managed to climb 14% higher.
Sirius XM Radio has resumed its winning ways, as subscriber growth is back on the menu despite the introduction over the past year of new fees and a proliferation of Internet radio-capable smartphones. Consumers have choices and they're choosing Sirius XM.
You have to be hungry for more
Fleshing out snappy sound bites to a few sentences -- as I just did -- is better, but it's still not enough.
As a member of the Motley Fool Rule Breakers analyst team, I don't settle for bullet points. When we recommended MercadoLibre to subscribers of the growth-stock newsletter service, our advice came in the form of a thorough buy report, complete with financial data and dozens of exploratory observations. There was also a Q&A session with a fellow analyst.
Due diligence doesn't end there, of course. A vibrant community of analysts and subscribers continue to discuss the recommendations, with updates as the fundamentals change for the better or worse.
Does Mad Money do that? Of course not. It may be weeks, months, or even years before a stock is revisited during the show's lightning round. And, as you can expect, you'll be left hanging with the same three words.
Tell me more.
Whether you join me and my fellow analysts for a free trial in time for the next batch of monthly recommendations or not, never settle for less information than you deserve when the time comes to plunk down your hard-earned money on a stock.
You deserve better than that.
This article was first published May 28, 2009. It has been updated.
Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz realizes that wedding vows may take all of two words, but stock relationships need more. He does not own shares in any of the stocks in this story. MercadoLibre is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation. Schwab and eBay are Motley Fool Stock Advisor selections. The Fool has a disclosure policy.