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. We're all looking for stock ideas, but it's not right to boil down due diligence to the ring of a cash register or a charging bull.
Every Lightning Round fills me with the same three-word plea that Cramer never heeds:
"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.
(NYSE:LL): Growing its hardwood-flooring empire at a time when rivals are retreating? Zig when everybody zags, baby.
(NASDAQ:NTES): Online gaming is booming in China. Talk about living up to your name!
(NYSE:BKE): Buckle up, amigos! The rest of the mall is empty because everybody's shopping here.
(NASDAQ:NVDA): Graphics processors? I like what I see here, people.
(NYSE:VG): Finally! Vonage lives up to its "one smart decision among many, many stupid ones" ads.
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 soundbite or a cocktail-napkin scribble, but you really need to know more than what five seconds from a talking head will tell you.
Lumber Liquidators is a sexy retail play in the very unsexy housing industry because of the amazing unit-level economies. It doesn't take a lot to open a new store, yet it will rake in millions. Lumber Liquidators takes the right approach for the fragmented flooring industry, and big-boy superstores Home Depot
NetEase is growing quickly with the most popular multiplayer Web-based game in China. Despite the huge margins and bottom-line gains, it's trading for only 15 times next year's projected profitability.
Shoppers can be fickle, but Buckle has bucked the mall malaise. Things are going so well at the trendy apparel chain that the company announced a one-time $1.80-per-share dividend last week. NVIDIA has struggled this year, like most computing-component specialists. Analysts see big things for next year, though, with earnings growing threefold.
Vonage had its problems in the past, but it's been racing back into the market's good graces lately. The stock has more than quadrupled since bottoming out in March, as the prospects for Web-based telephony continue to improve.
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 Lumber Liquidators and NetEase.com 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 continues 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.
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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 owns no shares in any of the stocks in this story. NetEase.com and Lumber Liquidators are Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendations. NVIDIA is a Stock Advisor pick. Lowe's and Home Depot are Inside Value selections. The Fool has a disclosure policy