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Cramer was born in 1955 in Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania (a suburb of Philadelphia), to Jewish parents. Cramer's mother, Louise A. Cramer, was an Artist. Cramer's Father, N. Ken Cramer, owned International Packaging Products in Philadelphia; the company sold wrapping paper, boxes and bags to Retailers and restaurants. In one of his first jobs, he sold ice cream at Veterans Stadium during Philadelphia Phillies games. Cramer went to Springfield Township High School in Montgomery County. He lives in Summit, New Jersey.
After graduating from Harvard, Cramer worked in several entry-level reporting jobs. Dating back to March 1, 1978, Cramer worked for the Tallahassee Democrat in Tallahassee, Florida, where he covered the Ted Bundy murders. Then-executive Editor, Richard Oppel, has said "[Cramer] was like a driving ram. He was great at getting the story." He subsequently wrote for the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner. During this time, his apartment was robbed on multiple occasions, eventually losing all of his possessions and forcing him to live out of his car for several months. He also worked for Governor Jerry Brown.
Cramer's track record helped him obtain employment in 1984 as a stockbroker with Goldman Sachs' Private Wealth Management division. Cramer's success in this position led him to found his own hedge fund, Cramer & Co. (later Cramer, Berkowitz & Co.), in 1987. The fund operated out of the offices of hedge fund pioneer Michael Steinhardt's Steinhardt, Fine, Berkowitz & Co. and early Investors included Eliot Spitzer (a Harvard classmate, one of his oldest friends and former Governor of New York who resigned), Brill, and Peretz.
During Cramer's tenure with the fund from 1988 to 2000, he had one year of negative returns in 1998. The following year, the fund returned 47% and in 2000 28%, beating the S&P 500 by 38 percentage points. Cramer retired from his hedge fund in 2001, finishing with a 24% average annual return over 14 years and having "routinely [taken] home $10 million a year and more." The fund was taken over by his former partner Jeff Berkowitz after Cramer's retirement. During that time, he was also an "editor at large" for SmartMoney magazine and was accused of unethically combining his investing and reporting activities when he bought stocks that he recommended just before his recommendation article came out, contributing to a $2 million personal gain. Today, Cramer is barred by CNBC from trading stocks with his personal funds although he makes picks and sells his recommendations.
After being a frequent guest commentator on CNBC in the late 1990s, Cramer co-hosted CNBC shows America Now and Kudlow & Cramer with Lawrence Kudlow in the early 2000s.
In 1996 Cramer co-founded TheStreet, Inc. [formerly TheStreet.com, Inc.] with The New Republic Editor Martin Peretz, one of his hedge fund's original clients. Cramer is currently a market commentator and adviser to the TheStreet, Inc. and is its second-largest shareholder. Cramer also manages a charitable trust stock portfolio which is tied to TheStreet, Inc. through a paid subscription Service called Action Alerts PLUS Portfolio. Cramer owns a 10 per cent stake in TheStreet, the market value of which peaked at $1.7 billion but by 2014, the Nasdaq-listed company was worth less than $80 million.
In 2000 Cramer settled a lawsuit with Fox News Channel in which Fox had claimed Cramer reneged on a deal to produce a show for them. Their conflict began when Fox complained that Cramer promoted TheStreet, Inc's stock on the air.
Cramer is the founder, former owner, and former Senior Partner of Cramer Berkowitz, a hedge fund where Cramer reported a compounded annual "rate of return of 24% after all fees for 15 years" at Cramer Berkowitz. He retired from his hedge fund in 2001, where he finished with a self reported 36% return in 2001. (These returns, however, cannot be independently verified, since hedge funds have no ticker symbols and are not controlled by the SEC. The only source should have been an independent client, who would have invested from day one.)
In the timeframe of 2002 until May 2009 the performance of Cramer's charitable trust "Action Alerts PLUS" outpaced the S&P 500 and the Russell 2000; while the charitable trust accumulated a return of 31.75%, the S&P 500 had a return of 18.75% and the Russell 2000 had a return of 22.51%. On an annual basis, the trust outperformed the S&P 500 by 7.35% and the Russell 2000 Index by 3.33%. Paul Bolster explains that Cramer beats the market in part because of the excess risk in his picks. “If we adjust for his market risk, we come up with an excess return that is essentially zero”, Bolster said, adding that “zero”, in this case, means his returns are roughly in line with the risk he’s taking on. Another criticism of Actions Alerts Plus is that it does not compare itself to indexes that include dividend reinvestment (as the SEC requires for stock oriented mutual funds). According to a Kiplinger's article "One recent [Action Alerts PLUS] ad included a chart, under the headline “Action Alert PLUS is CRUSHING the S&P 500,” showing that the picks returned about 39% from the portfolio’s inception through last March 31, compared with 15.5% for the S&P 500 over the same nine-year, three-month period. But the S&P figure did not include reinvested dividends. With them, the S&P 500 returned 38.3%."
In 2005, Cramer appeared as himself in two episodes of the television series Arrested Development. He appeared to first announce that he had upgraded Bluth Company stock to a "Don't Buy" from a "Triple Sell," and then to say that the stock was not a "Don't Buy" anymore, but a "Risky."
Stewart also discussed how short-selling was detrimental to the markets and Investors. Cramer admitted to Stewart that short-selling was detrimental, stated his opposition to it, and claimed that he had never engaged in it, which contradicts earlier statements in which he described going short while managing a hedge fund. In a December 2006 interview from TheStreet.com's "Wall Street Confidential" webcast Cramer said, "A lot of times when I was short at my hedge fund. ... When I was positioned short—meaning I needed it down—I would create a level of activity beforehand that could drive the futures." He said, "I will say this: I am trying to expose this stuff, exactly what you guys do, and I've been trying to get the regulators to look at it." However, Stewart played several video clips from 2006 where Cramer discussed the spreading of false rumors to drive down stock prices and encouraged short-selling by hedge funds as a means to generate returns. At one point in a clip from December 22, 2006, he said, "I would encourage anyone in a hedge fund to do it." He called it a very quick way to make money and very satisfying. He continued, "By the way, no one else in the world would ever admit that, but I don't care, and again, I'm not gonna say it on TV." Stewart responded, "I want the Jim Cramer on CNBC to protect me from that Jim Cramer." Cramer again admitted that he can do better, and that he should try to change. The interview ended when Stewart pointedly suggested: "Maybe we can remove the 'financial expert' and the 'In Cramer We Trust' and start getting back to fundamentals on the reporting, as well, and I can go back to making fart noises and funny faces." Cramer responded: "I think we make that deal right here".
Cramer appeared on CNBC on August 3, 2007 and said of the Fed Committee, "They're nuts. They know nothing. This is a different kinda market. And the Fed is asleep." When the transcript from the August 7, 2007 meeting of the Federal Reserve Open Markets Committee was subsequently released on August 28, 2007, it showed that Cramer's comments elicited laughter from participants during a comment from Dennis Lockhart, President and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. "I believe that the correct policy posture is to let the markets work through the changes in risk appetite and pricing that are under way, but the market observations of one of my more strident conversational counterparts—and that is not Jim Cramer [laughter]—are worth sharing." Continued economic decline in the months that followed—a period that would become known as the Great Recession—and the subsequent rebound in the stock market have left Cramer seemingly vindicated.
Michael Lewis, a Journalist for the UK-based Evening Standard, states that TheStreet.com listed Bear Stearns as a "Buy" at $62 per share on March 11, 2008, which was the same day as the caller's question and a day before the collapse of Bear Stearns. However, TheStreet.com—the web site quote that shows the ratings history for actual changes that Cramer makes—indicates that Cramer changed Bear Stearns rating to a "Sell" on February 5, 2008. On his March 12, 2009 appearance on The Daily Show, Cramer admitted he made mistakes on his Bear Stearns calls.
"The pundits," Cramer explained on March 9, 2009, in a MainStreet article, "who haven't paid attention to anything I have been saying or writing for the past 18 months are all over me." Cramer said the pundits "won't engage in the merits of, say, favoring Tier 1 capital for the banks vs. Common equity, or forbearing on the banks to work the situation out over time because the banks can be profitable if we have some patience. They just attack me." Cramer suggested, "It's time to get serious. It's time to take the issue from the pundits and from the left and right, and put it where it belongs: serious non-ideological debate to put out the real firestorm, the collapse of the economy from Wall Street to Main Street and the ensuing Great Wealth Destruction for all."
On April 18, 2015, Cramer married Lisa Detwiler in Brooklyn, New York. She is a real estate broker. Cramer has two children from his first marriage.
A study done by Wharton researchers Jonathan Hartley and Matthew Olson found that in the timeframe of August 2001 to March 2016, Cramer's charitable trust underperformed the S&P 500 primarily as a result of underexposure to market returns in years after the 2008 financial crisis. As of March 31, 2016, Cramer's trust since inception had a cumulative return of 64.5% where the S&P 500 less dividends returned 70% during the same time frame. Wharton Finance professor Robert Stambaugh said he didn't think the findings showed significant underperformance or outperformance when adjusting for a variety of factors, but did state "It’s a commendable attempt to dig more deeply into the style that underlies Cramer’s stock picks."