Cramer’s Rule: How Information Content Moves Markets

When Jim Cramer offers investment advice on his CNBC show Mad Money, he influences market prices (Engelberg et al., 2009).  By analyzing text from transcripts of the show, we explore the relationship between what Cramer says and the magnitude and direction of his price effect.  We demonstrate that Cramer’s influence is more complex than simply drawing investor attention to particular stocks and is in fact related the content of his recommendations.  A cursory viewing of Mad Money reveals that Cramer generally provides no new information about stocks, but instead argues that they may be mispriced by investors with access to identical information.  The puzzle of the Cramer effect is why, despite containing little new information about stock fundamentals, does Cramer’s advice influence investors to alter their valuations and thus the stock price?


An intuitive explanation is that markets are informationally incomplete, that investors are not aware of all the securities they could trade, and that when Cramer recommends a stock, he simply draws attention to it.  Had investors known about the stock, they would have incorporated this knowledge into their decisions and the stock would have been priced appropriately.  Merton (1987) formalized this explanation in his “investor recognition hypothesis”.  In his model, stocks with low investor recognition earn higher returns to compensate holders for being imperfectly diversified.  Indeed, stocks with no media coverage earn higher returns when controlling for common risk factors (Fang and Peress, 2008), and increased investor attention to a particular Cramer recommendation (as measured by Nielsen television ratings) significantly increases the market’s response to Cramer’s advice (Engelberg et al., 2009).  The story behind this hypothesis is that Cramer simply draws attention to stocks which lacked investor awareness and were therefore earning higher returns.


Another potential explanation for the Cramer effect is that markets are affected by noise traders who, unlike rational investors who only consider fundamentals, irrationally act on noise coming from media coverage, pundits, and their own generally uninformed research (DeLong et al., 1990).  These noise traders are swayed by media content that expresses optimistic or pessimistic sentiment about stocks without providing any new information on fundamentals.  There is some empirical evidence that media content affects stock prices.  For example, Tetlock (Forthcoming) conducted a simple binary text analysis of a daily Wall Street Journal column and found, consistent with the theoretical predictions of DeLong et al. (1990), that pessimistic media content induces downward pressure on stock prices and that the price impact of this pressure reverses itself over time.  A similar trend is evident in the price impact of Cramer’s recommendations.  When he mentions a stock on his show, it initially undergoes a significant price change which reverses over the next 30 days (Engelberg et al., 2009).  As Cramer rarely discusses obscure stocks, it could be that the magnitude and direction of his influence on the market is not simply attentional, but rather related to the content of what he says-essentially, that the content of his recommendations creates changes in sentiment that move the market.


To explore the source of Cramer’s price effect and to extend work on sentiment analysis beyond simple binary characterizations of positive and negative coverage, we constructed a model of Cramer’s influence on investor sentiment based on content features derived from Mad Money transcripts.  Applying recent developments in generative text analysis (Blei et al., 2003), we estimated posterior probabilities that Cramer discussed specific topics in his recommendations and assessed the relative impact of these different topics on the magnitude and direction of Cramer’s influence on stock prices.  Our analysis suggests that the topics of Cramer’s discourse explain a significant amount of the variance in the abnormal returns generated the day after he recommends a stock.  The results imply that Cramer is more influential when he presents specific kinds of arguments or discusses particular rationales for investments, demonstrating the influence of topical information content on individual economic decisions and aggregate market outcomes.