Cramer Vs. Cramer

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The first objective of any kiss-and-tell author is finding a target so well known that people will pay for the scandalous inside scoop. Does Jim Cramer--the money manager turned TV shouter--make that cut? Well, he does now. With a seriously flawed expose by a former employee being recalled, re-lawyered and republished--and Cramer's own memoir rushed into print to exploit the news--there's plenty of heat to sustain both books and keep Cramer where he likes to be: in the spotlight.

Cramer is no Warren Buffet. But in running a hedge fund for 14 years through 2000, his returns averaged 24% annually, trouncing the Dow's 15% and beating his competition's 22%, reports tracking firm Hedge Fund Research. What interests publishers, however, is not so much his stock-trading prowess as his outsize persona, his view of investing as warfare and the celebrity he has attained as an insider reporting, as he puts it, "from the trenches." In the mid-'90s, Cramer writes, his goal was "be ubiquitous," and hardly a day went by that he wasn't on TV and radio and writing for major publications (including TIME) and for his website TheStreet.com. He alienated some not just with his opinions but with his fiery temper, hubris and cutthroat trading style.

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So it's not surprising that someone came after him in print. What is surprising, and pleasantly so, is that useful information emerges from the brouhaha. Cramer's story--no matter who tells it--shows how thoroughly the culture of buzz has come to infect stock trading, and how even the SEC's new "fair disclosure" regulations fail to give average investors much chance in the short run. Pros like Cramer simply have too big an information edge.

Nothing sells like controversy. So last week Cramer's book was moved up a month to a mid-May release. Meanwhile, the retooled work by Cramer's onetime trading assistant Nicholas Maier will have a first printing larger than the 4,000 copies that were reduced to pulp after specific allegations of insider stock trading were deemed unsupportable. Helping both books, of course, is that Cramer is undeniably a fascinating study in computer-tossing, tongue-lashing manic drive for fortune on Wall Street. In a statement, Cramer asserts that Maier's book "contains page after page of lies and innuendo." Yet in his own book Cramer confirms much of the appalling behavior set forth by Maier.

These days Cramer pursues a media career full time, mainly on CNBC and Bloomberg Radio. In his book, Confessions of a Street Addict, you learn why he gave up trading for a living. Basically, Cramer got fed up with Cramer--not liking the obsessed lunatic he'd become and deciding to quit before he went certifiably bonkers. A lot of folks thought he had passed that threshold long ago.

One was Maier, whose Trading with the Enemy was published in early March. Cramer quickly took issue with the book's most serious charge: that he traded Western Digital in 1998 on inside information. The references to Western Digital have been removed in the new edition--but nothing else. Cramer declines to comment. His lawyer Eric Seiler says "so much of the book is factually flawed that they need to make changes beyond what they've acknowledged." Maier asserts that Cramer would load up a position and feed cnbc stars Maria Bartiromo and David Faber news that would move his stocks--a charge cnbc and Cramer strongly deny.

The vivid picture Maier draws of his boss from hell, however, is consistent with Cramer's account. "I had broken enough furniture and monitors and keyboards to last a lifetime," Cramer writes. It's no contest whose book is better: Cramer's, once you get past the bluster. Did he really memorize every closing price on the New York exchange? Cramer offers the best accounts I've read of how pros pay huge trading commissions to brokerage firms in return for the first call on stock-moving events like an analyst downgrade. New sec rules don't stop that or other ploys. And, it seems, nothing stops Cramer.