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 booyahs 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.
(Nasdaq: ISRG): Robots are taking over the hospital -- and I like it!
(NYSE: CRM): The poster child of cloud computing is looking good. Beam me up to the enterprise software!
(Nasdaq: SWIR): Sprint Nextel (NYSE: S)is marketing the bejeezus out of Sierra's mobile hotspot. That's a hot spot. Get it?
(NYSE: V): Paper or plastic? Swipe it, baby. Go Visa!
(NYSE: LL): It's the hardwood that makes it good at this flooring retailer.
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.
Intuitive Surgical's da Vinci robotic arm truly has revolutionized the operating table. It reduces surgeon fatigue and generally improves patient recovery times. Health-care uncertainties, reform, and budget cutbacks can't get in the way of a no-brainer hospital enhancer. Profits tripled in its latest quarter.
As many tech companies stumbled during the recession, salesforce.com has thrived. Providing companies with cheap -- and portable -- Web-based solutions to corporate software applications has helped salesforce.com become an all-weather winner. The shares may appear pricey at this point, but it has more than earned its premium.
Sierra Wireless wasn't the first company to introduce a mobile hot spot. Novatel
Visa is a ubiquitous provider of consumer credit. It bears pointing out that Visa simply markets its plastic. The issuing banks are the ones that take on the credit risk, while Visa simply collects royalties and a thin slice of merchant transactions.
Lumber Liquidators is a specialty retailer in hardwood flooring. This is a fragmented industry, and it also appears to be on the rise before the home improvement superstores and residential developers turn the corner. Net sales rose 18% in its latest quarter, fueled by healthy expansion and a refreshing 5.5% spike in same-store sales.
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 Intuitive Surgical, salesforce.com, and Lumber Liquidators to subscribers of the growth-stock newsletter service, our advice came in the form of thorough buy reports, complete with financial data and dozens of exploratory observations.
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.
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. Sprint Nextel is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick. salesforce.com, Intuitive Surgical, and Lumber Liquidators Holdings are Rule Breakers recommendations. The Fool has a disclosure policy.