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Memoirs of a Minyan: Sign of the Times


The purpose of the journey is the journey itself.

It was a thing of beauty, a rhythm that bridged his analytical reasoning with the innards of my trading gut. We were everything a hedge fund was supposed to be and more.

As Jeff shared his bearish inclinations on Microsoft (MSFT) from the hallway of the conference, I was on the horn with Deutsche Bank which had a large vanilla buyer of the common stock. I was looking for an excuse to take a short position and Jeff delivered it in spades.

Bang! We're short two-fitty (250,000 shares) and covered it down a buck.

Zing! Puts were flowing like water in and out of our green portfolio.

Pow! Another facial tick by Microsoft CFO John Connors and we tossed a few hundred thousand back out.

We had yet to eat lunch and Mr. Softee alone netted us close to three million dollars.

And it wasn't just Microsoft as we hosted a profit party at the hallowed halls of Cramer Berkowitz. As we opened our stance and took a full cut, we coined money across the board in tech. We traded so much merchandise with so many brokers, my team barely had time to input positions into our systems.

It was the definition of fluidity as our P&L grew from three to four to five million.

As the close approached, I felt a great sense of satisfaction. We played to win and exhibited the discipline that is the hallmark of any great trading operation. It would have been a perfect session if not for the tiny landmine nestled between the sheets.

You see, in the midst of those multiple seven-figure wins was a 20,000-share position in the computer storage company Brocade (BRCD). It was one of the best performing stocks at the time and as an extension, one of Jim's favorites as well. I hadn't even seen him slip a position on the sheets.

After the closing bell, Brocade announced a picture perfect quarter, a work of art in an otherwise burning building. Unfortunately, trading well over $100 per share, the good news was already baked into the price.

Blink and it was down five. Sigh and it was down $10.

With each draft lower, Jim nibbled on more stock. And with each downtick, Mount Vesuvius growled louder on the other side of the desk.

I tried to calm Jim by pointing to our monster session. "Relax brother," I said, "We had a huge day" but he would have none of it. The venom was thick as spit flew from his mouth and the phone and keyboard shattered on his desk. I saw that movie before and wasn't interested in watching the sequel.

I got up, grabbed my jacket and walked out; I heard an object smash against the closed door while I waited for the elevator. As far as I was concerned, I wasn't going to return as long as Mr. Cramer was there.

Jim called Jeff to complain that I didn't care about the fund.

A bit later, Jeff called me and we had a long conversation.

Victory Laps and Big Steps Back

Life at Cramer Berkowitz was like living in a reality show, a surreal story you couldn't possibly fathom unless you saw it with your own eyes. I only wish someone had the foresight to film it.

Jim's focus increasingly shifted towards his growing media presence on and CNBC. That was fine by me-the clock was ticking towards a rather large payday. In hindsight, his ability to juggle so many tasks was an amazing accomplishment. At the time, I viewed his attention as splintered at best.

One day, I yelled across the desk to Jim as he leaned back in his chair with the phone pressed against his ear and alerted him that we were making a bet against the market. He saw me vying for his attention, gave me a thumbs-up and placed his hand over the receiver. "I love 'em here-go!"

When I informed him that we were aggressively shorting the tape, he nodded his head in agreement and made "selling gestures" with his hands as if to say "Sell, sell, sell!"
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