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Rule No. 18: Be Flexible

Editor's note: Jim Cramer's new book, Real Money: Sane Investing in an Insane World , is available in selected bookstores now. As a special bonus to RealMoney readers, we will be running Cramer's "Twenty-Five Rules of Investing." For more about the new book and to order it, click here . Today, we present Cramer's eighteenth rule of investing. Read more about his rules:

  1. Pigs Get Slaughtered
  2. It's OK to Pay the Taxes
  3. Don't Buy All at Once
  4. Buy Damaged Stocks
  5. Diversify to Control Risk
  6. Do Your Homework
  7. Don't Panic
  8. Buy Best-of-Breed
  9. Defend Some Stocks
  10. Don't Bet on Bad Stocks
  11. Don't Own Too Many Names
  12. Cash Is for Winners
  13. No Woulda, Shoulda, Couldas
  14. Expect Corrections
  15. Watch Bonds
  16. Don't Subsidize Losers
  17. Check Hope at the Door


The most important rule of all is:

Be flexible.

You have to be flexible because business, by nature, is dynamic, not static. Things change. Markets change. Competitors start new price wars to win share. Companies execute poorly. Customers cancel orders. Events happen that make buying decisions more difficult or postpone them.

Of course, our buy-and-hold brainwashing totally precludes many of us from ever thinking like this. We have made up our minds that things are great for Coca-Cola (KO), say, and we don't want the facts to get in the way of the story. Or we decided in 2000 that Cisco (CSCO) was a winning stock and we are not going to be dissuaded by the change in the fundamentals to sell it. Our "love" for stocks is so misplaced in this rough-and-tumble world of business.

Not long ago, I thought that Charter Communications (CHTR) would be a terrific stock if the largest shareholder would simply pony up more money with the rest of us to improve the balance sheet.

Instead, the largest shareholder took a powder and the company went to hedge funds and offered them the right to short as much common as they wanted to in return for lending them money. The hedge funds obliged. If the company had adopted my funding method, or if the company simply had done a huge equity offering, we would be looking at a win, not a loss. But the company made the wrong move and the stock went from being a good stock to a bad one.

Many people thought that I had gone from being a good stock picker to a bad stock picker because of Charter. Frankly, I think that management and the largest shareholder made moves that weren't rational. It's hard to invest with someone who exhibits irrational behavior after that person had not exhibited such behavior before. So I had to cut my losses and run. I mention all of this because the unwillingness to recognize this turn for the worse, as bad as it was, would have led to much larger losses than I already had accrued in the stock.

Stay flexible and recognize the vicissitudes of the market and of individual businesses. Or, own bonds.

Your call, as always.

1. Pigs Get Slaughtered 2. It's OK to Pay the Taxes
3. Don't Buy All at Once 4. Buy Damaged Stocks
5. Diversify to Control Risk 6. Do Your Homework
7. Don't Panic 8. Buy Best-of-Breed
9. Defend Some Stocks 10. Don't Bet on Bad Stocks
11. Own Fewer Names 12. Cash Is for Winners
13. No Regrets 14. Expect Corrections
15. Know Bonds 16. Don't Subsidize Losers
17. No Room for Hope 18. Be Flexible
Check back for more of Cramer's Rules

James J. Cramer is a director and co-founder of TheStreet.com. He contributes daily market commentary for TheStreet.com's sites and serves as an adviser to the company's CEO. Outside contributing columnists for TheStreet.com and RealMoney.com, including Cramer, may, from time to time, write about stocks in which they have a position. In such cases, appropriate disclosure is made. To see his personal portfolio and find out what trades Cramer will make before he makes them, sign up for Action Alerts PLUS by clicking here. While he cannot provide personalized investment advice or recommendations, he invites you to send comments on his column to jjcletters@thestreet.com. Listen to Cramer's RealMoney Radio show on your computer; just click here. Watch Cramer on "Mad Money" at 6 p.m. EST weeknights on CNBC. Click here to order Cramer's latest book, "Real Money: Sane Investing in an Insane World," click here to get his second book, "You Got Screwed!" and click here to order Cramer's autobiography, "Confessions of a Street Addict."

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