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Whoa! These things really pop out at you, no? Pretty impressive.


Digital billboards have come on strong over the past ten years or so. According to this article, digital billboards are poised to become a $15 billion dollar industry by 2020. Investors in the big players in the market like Lamar and CBS Outdoor should make out handsomely.

Who could have seen that coming?

Well, probably anyone. Anyone except Jim Cramer, that is.

Yes, braying financial-entertainment rodeo clown Jim Cramer: The darling of people too debilitated to change the channel, or who think investing and managing money require the spectacle of a whirling dervish (which he is) and the insight of a oracular genius (which he is not).

I used to watch his show quite regularly. I’d at least have it playing in the background while I worked, hoping to pick up on some of his wisdom as regards personal finance. It seemed the right thing to do: Listen for some good stock tips and when one caught my ear, do what amounted to day-trading in my 401K. I was dumb. That’s what everyone else was doing–everyone who was losing money just like I was.

I learned this much: If you want to make money in the stock market, become a stockbroker or analyst and put a portion of your salary in bonds. Not stocks: Bonds. Put your “mad money” into a low-cost index fund. Charge commissions on trades to the people who think they’re going to strike it rich by trading individual equities.

As a stockbroker you’re selling what amounts to a drug to addicts. Don’t do your own stuff.

But there might be another way to profit in trading individual stocks.

For a while, it seemed that the best way to predict the market was to take whatever Jim Cramer marked as a “buy” and short the living hell out of it. Similarly, if he rated something a “sell” it would behoove you to buy or option it like crazy. Jim Cramer remains a counter-indicator. And in that sense he might be valuable to some.

If only I had known!

He had a guest on his show once back about seven years ago. In distinction to Cramer, this man was soft-spoken, somewhat awkward, stammering, and drably-dressed. He presented his argument for the then-somewhat-new digital billboard market as a mid- to long-range investment. His information was solid, as was his reasoning.

The problem: He was a boring man boringly making a case for a boring investment–one that has since outperformed the overall market and shows no signs of stopping. One that actually would — y’know — make money for investors.

Jim Cramer ripped him stem to stern, of course. I think he recommended buying shares in some idiotic and now-bankrupt web venture instead. I am sure his usual audience ate it up as he did his best to humiliate the less-shiny person who actually knew what he was talking about.

So how could anyone have known that Jim Cramer was wrong?

Well, here are some points I’ve reflected on that might help guide us:

  • Digital billboards can make more use of real assets (time, space, sight-lines, location).
  • Digital billboards can be changed remotely. No need to send out a crew.
  • Digital billboards stood to become more profitable as the cost of the technology inevitably decreased.
  • Digital billboards exemplify what made us successful as a species: Adaptability and concurrency.

See, this is how a philosophy grad does investing. Or should be doing investing, rather — if only more philosophy grads were taught to think and not just play word games, as most of them sadly are.

But Jim Cramer isn’t a philosopher. He’s not much of an investor, either.

So the Spatula School takeaway is this: There’s no secret to investing; no one can help you suddenly make millions off of a few good tips; and if you want wisdom, you’ll need to listen to the boring people in the rumpled clothes who aren’t very entertaining.

See the other two Spatula School articles here and here.