If you're in business and you have a TV, you've probably seen Jim Cramer.
The host of CNBC's Mad Money is short, with a goatee and the sturdy build of a wrestler. And if he's on his game, he's stomping around the set, his sleeves rolled up, wearing a tie so tightly around his neck that his eyes bug out of his head, shouting that Research In Motion Ltd., or some other stock, is about to crash.
Mr. Cramer used to be a big Wall Street hedge fund manager. His current shtick is to tell investors what's what in the market.
He now concedes he went too far in a recent Web interview on the TheStreet.com's Wall Street Confidential segment, in which he confessed to various sins during his hedge fund life. Among his transgressions: manipulating stock futures, bamboozling the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and chronically bending the truth.
"What's important when you are in that hedge fund mode is to not do anything remotely truthful because the truth is so against your view, that it's important to create a new truth, to develop a fiction," Mr. Cramer told TheStreet.com.
The hedge fund "mode," as he puts it, meant doing just about anything to make a buck, including spreading false rumours through business journalists and some of his current colleagues at CNBC to make stocks move in a desired direction.
Mr. Cramer has since tried to distance himself from the remarks, and experts are split on whether he may be in hot water with regulators.
"I learned a big lesson here: you got to be a little more clear . . . you can't be as glib, because people will interpret this as being that you're a bad guy," Mr. Cramer told a radio host last week as he tried to defuse the controversy.
The incident probably says a lot about Mr. Cramer, who gave up the hedge fund life in 2000 after reportedly banking more than $100-million (U.S.) in gains. Mr. Cramer will apparently say anything, any time, and some of it might even be true.
Mr. Cramer's comments also shed a little light on the murky, and largely unregulated, world of hedge funds.
And the flap comes just as investors are being offered a rare opportunity to buy a piece of Mr. Cramer's old world. Stephen Schwarzman's Blackstone Group, the world's largest private equity firm and hedge fund manager, said last week that it plans to raise as much as $4-billion in an initial public offering, or IPO.
Like Mr. Cramer's surprising candour, the Blackstone IPO offers a glimpse into a world most investors rarely see -- a world of gargantuan profits and cowboy investing. It's also a place where little investors get squashed like bugs by hedge fund managers in the mould of Mr. Cramer.
Blackstone's prospectus boasts some impressive figures on the company's recent performance. Its assets under management have grown 500 per cent in the past six years, to $78-billion from $14-billion. And its companies have generated average annual returns of 23 per cent, dating back to 1987. In 2006, Blackstone made $2.27-billion in profit, or nearly $3-million per employee.
But that's all a bit illusory. Blackstone plans to sell shares in its underlying management company, not its investment portfolio. Investors will get units in a limited partnership, which owns the management profits.
There's something that just doesn't seem to fit about the Blackstone IPO. Taking the company public seems to be at odds with everything Mr. Schwarzman stands for. He's often talked disparagingly about public markets. And he's no fan of the kind of heavy regulatory hand that the Sarbanes-Oxley law put on public companies.
Investors might want to ponder why the savvy folks at Blackstone want your money at this particular juncture. Maybe they want to cash out of the private equity and hedge fund game while the going is good.
Investors should also remember Mr. Cramer's insight into the hedge fund mentality: "The truth is so against your view, that it's important to create a new truth, to develop a fiction." If he's right, investors would be wise to stick to non-fiction.