Further, Cramer told me, Barron’s is unfair because it doesn’t eat its own cooking. It makes stock selections in its own pages, but starts counting the day before publication, allowing it to benefit from a “Barron’s bounce,” while denying that advantage to Mad Money.
In the end, I disagree with CNBC on almost all counts. Overall, the Barron’s piece is sound.
First, and foremost, CNBC is wrong to air a show that is centered on stock picking without tracking its own performance or even keeping a record, using whatever criteria it chooses, of the stocks it picks.
Alpert says as much in his piece. While CNBC officials maintain that the main goal of the show is educational and to give viewers insight into the thinking of successful trader, they acknowledge the problem and say they are working on it.
CNBC is also obviously wrong to dismiss the list posted by TheStreet.com —a list endorsed by the Mad Money host of picks he made on the Mad Money show—as having nothing to do with Mad Money. Meanwhile, TheStreet.com is closely tied to Cramer who is closely tied to CNBC. Readers and viewers should not be asked to sort through that linguine bowl of fine distinctions and overlapping interests.
Third, it borders on flimflammery for CNBC to put forward a list of sanctioned picks that eliminates 90 percent of the stocks Cramer talks about, including and especially mentions that are accompanied by cows and a “moo,” which occurs frequently in the lightning round.
And while viewers obviously know that words like “lightning round” and “sudden death” do not mean “meticulously researched,” in fact they do trade on those supposed non-picks, hence the next-day stock gyrations on all manner of Cramer mentions.
Finally, Cramer’s argument that Barron should measure him as it measures itself, while understandable from his point of view, is beside the point. Barron’s’s picks are another story. And since Mad Money picks are available to its viewers only after broadcast, that’s how they should be measured. In any case, Alpert’s story allowed CNBC its method (waiting five trading days after the pick) in measuring its list of 445 stocks.
That all said, I do see flaws in Alpert’s story.
First, while Barron’s could not of course mention the bitter struggle over the leak questions, it could have been more generous in describing Cramer and CNBC’s defensive posture. Their defensiveness stemmed in large degree from causes that readers knew nothing about.
Put another way: Would CNBC have been as defensive, absent the front-running questions? No way.
Second, Barron’s seems overly dismissive of CNBC’s (minor) victory using its database of 445 stocks. Yes, it is a highly selective collection based on unclear criteria of a fraction of Cramer’s total mentions. Still, given all that, he beat the market by 1.2 percent over two months, or, extrapolated over a year, 7.2 percent, which is good by any standard. Barron’s should have done more to deconstruct this list if it felt it was deliberately cobbled together to help Cramer win. Perhaps it is made up of Cramer’s researched picks. As it is, the reader does not know.
Also Barron’s unfairly moves the bar in discussing the performance of the CNBC list. After grudgingly conceding the 1.2 percent out-performance, Barron’s adds: “More important, the stocks fell short of the S&P by a statistically significant 2.2% through last week,” meaning August 18. But the period under review was January 1 through July 31, 2007.
That’s a gratuitous shot. Barron’s should have stuck to the parameters of the discussion.
Finally, the piece refers in passing to Cramer’s “then-wife, Karen;” the couple is still married. This gaffe is unrelated to the main thrust of the piece and was no doubt unintentional, but explains some of the lingering animus in the CNBC camp.
In the end, was the Barron’s piece a hatchet job, as CNBC contends? No, it really was not.
So, was CNBC wrong to throw Barron’s off the air? Actually, no. It’s its air.
Did CNBC behave unprofessionally, as Barron’s contends? No—except to the extent that its own policies force it into disingenuous arguments about what is and isn’t a “pick.”
This is the contradiction that the Barron’s story, and the subsequent fallout, have exposed. It’s up to CNBC to resolve it.