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NEW YORK (
TheStreet) -- The markets are asking a lot from companies this earnings season, sometimes too much, Jim Cramer told
"Mad Money" viewers Thursday. That's why so few companies are able to run through the gauntlet and emerge unscathed.
Companies need to pass a number of hurdles if they want to see their stocks head higher. The first is Europe. If a company has any exposure to Europe or is seeing any weakness or is seeing its outlook diminished by the troubled continent, then its stock will be crushed, he said. In fact, this hurdle is the one responsible for much of the damage the markets have been seeing.
Then there's the U.S. election and looming fiscal cliff hurdle, explained Cramer. Even the upside surprise from
Boeing(BA) was not enough to keep its stock higher, as worries over defense spending brought in the profit-takers.
If companies can navigate those two hurdles, they must still make it past the China hurdle, said Cramer. That hurdle has been taking down the stocks of the industrials, the materials and stocks such as
Cummins(CMI) that need a strong China to grow.
But even if a company survives, it must still meet the deadliest of hurdles: expectations. Cramer said the stellar beat and raise from
Tractor Supply(TSCO) wasn't enough to save its stock, as expectations were for an even bigger beat with a bigger raise. The same was true with
Sherwin-Williams(SHW) -- its earnings weren't enough to keep its stock up 60% for the year, which is why it fell by 7% today.
Even the mighty
Apple(AAPL), a stock Cramer owns for his charitable trust,
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, were not immune to the expectations game, said Cramer. Apple is down 10% from its highs, but is still up 50% for the year -- which means its earnings needed to be a lot better.
"No one makes it out unscathed," Cramer concluded, which is why this will continue to be the most difficult earnings season in years.
In the "Executive Decision" segment, Cramer sat down with John Faraci, chairman and CEO of
International Paper(IP - Get Report), a company that took control of its own destiny by acquiring
Temple-Inland, making International Paper more profitable and less cyclical.