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NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The U.S. economy was almost there, almost ready to spring higher, Jim Cramer told his "Mad Money" TV show viewers Thursday. But then Washington got involved, and all was lost. We're now facing the first congressionally mandated bear market we've ever seen, said Cramer, all because 536 people couldn't agree.
Cramer said it's downright infuriating, just when the housing market was beginning to recover, just when autos were getting stronger, when retail sales were growing and when the banks looked like they were finally finding their footing, Congress has been able to undo it all and send our markets sharply lower. For the year, U.S. stocks are now up just half of their counterparts in Europe, and Europe is in a recession.So how can investors measure the damage and begin to ascertain when things might be getting better? Cramer came up with three indicators to help. First was the "Washington on TV" indicator. He said anytime the president or member of Congress gets on the air, expect the markets to go lower. Cramer's second indicator was Lockheed Martin (LMT - Get Report), the defense contractor with a 5% dividend yield. If the U.S. falls over the fiscal cliff, Lockheed will get hurt by both defense spending cuts and a rise in dividend taxes, Cramer noted, making this stock uniquely positioned to feel the blow. Finally, Cramer said investors can use Cisco (CSCO), Home Depot (HD) and Petsmart (PETM) as gauges for Washington's damage. Cramer said all three of these companies posted stellar earnings, so if they can't hold onto their gains, no one can. All of these indicators should help investors figure out whether the effects of the fiscal cliff are baked into the markets and whether its time to begin buying back in.
Sell BlockIn the Thursday "Sell Block" segment, Cramer reminded viewers some stocks go down because they deserve to, and that's certainly the case with J.C. Penney (JCP - Get Report). Cramer said investors may be tempted by shares of J.C. Penney, which have fallen 61% from their highs, but the company remains a value trap and is showing no signs of improving. Penney has had three disappointing quarters in a row, Cramer noted, and sales still continue to decline, dramatically so, and the company's balance sheet is weakening. Penney remains in a tailspin, Cramer said, and is offering no clarity on where it plans to go. Initially, CEO Ron Johnson laid out a plan with no coupons, but after customers revolted a few were added back in, then more followed. While it's true that Penney is remodeling its stores, the company may go broke doing so. Cramer said the bulls point to J.C. Penney's real estate, as the company owns 426 of its own stores. But Cramer questioned that logic, saying there are almost no buyers for stores as large as Penney, meaning they could sell for a fraction of what the company thinks they are worth. Cramer was also negative on Penney's new store-within-a-store concept, saying that many of Penney's brands are mediocre at best. Cramer reminded viewers that no company has a right to exist in retail, just ask the former Litz, Gimbles or Woolworths. With the company's "so what" brands and its confusing pricing, the chain may simply have no reason so exist in today's marketplace.
Upside Surprise PartyContinuing with his "Upside Surprise Party" series of stocks to buy as the markets continue to fall on fiscal cliff worries, Cramer recommended drug maker Amgen (AMGN - Get Report), a company with a huge pipeline of new drugs on the way and a 1.7% yield. Cramer said Amgen is predicted to double its earnings per share over the next eight years and recently delivered the "triple play" of earnings, including a 20-cent-a-share earnings beat, a 9.5% rise in revenue and upside guidance. After the release, shares rose sharply higher, but have since fallen 6.3% with the broader markets, despite doing everything right. Cramer said Amgen is the type of stock that will lose less as the market falls and gain more when it recovers. The company's drug for abnormally high cholesterol, AMG145, could be a $2.5 billion opportunity for the company. Amgen also has a substantial stock repurchase program and plans to grow its dividend over time. Trading at just 12 times earnings with a 10.5% long-term growth rate, Cramer said he's never seen Amgen trade as low as it is right now.
Lightning RoundIn the Lightning Round, Cramer was bullish on Isis Pharmaceuticals (ISIS), Southwestern Energy (SWN), American Capital Agency (AGNC), CenturyLink (CTL), AT&T (T), Verizon (VZ) and Kinder Morgan Energy Partners (KMP). Cramer was bearish on Chesapeake Energy (CHK) and Windstream (WIN).
Executive DecisionIn the "Executive Decision" segment, Cramer sat down with Robert Carr, chairman and CEO of Heartland Payment Systems (HPY - Get Report), our nation's fifth-largest payment processor. Heartland's most recent quarterly results included a 5-cent-a-share earnings beat on better-than-expected revenue with upside guidance. Carr explained Heartland currently services 250,000 merchants and is the company at the other end of the phone when merchants call in to process a payment. He said his company authorizes the transaction and then pays the merchants in the days that follow. Heartland started as the 62nd largest processor in the country and has risen to No. 5 in just 15 years. Carr also discussed the 2009 incident where hackers penetrated Heartland's systems, along with 300 other companies. He said Heartland responded quickly and afterward introduced end-to-end encryption for transactions so hackers can no longer cause similar damage. They also created an industry group to share security information to help the entire industry better protect itself. Carr talked about new innovations in the payments world by saying Heartland welcomes the changes. He said there are currently about 9 million merchants in the U.S., but the addition of so-called micro-merchants could take that number to 25 million. Carr showed off Heartland's mobile payment system that uses a smart phone to allow merchants to process payments even if they lose electricity. Cramer said Heartland Payment Systems is a great story.
No Huddle OffenseIn his "No Huddle Offense" segment, Cramer offered viewers his quick "Top 5" reasons why they shouldn't be sellers in Friday's market. First, Cramer said stocks are already very oversold, meaning there will be a better time to sell later. Second, while many stocks will be impacted by the fiscal cliff, others, like international names, will not, which is why it's prudent to buy, not sell, into weakness. Third, Cramer noted everything gets baked into stock prices eventually, and stocks often bottom before big events occur, not after. Fourth, Cramer said the higher taxes and spending cuts of the fiscal cliff won't be the end of the world for certain sectors, like health care and those that offer consumers a bargain. Finally, Cramer said companies with big dividends will likely be able to raise those dividends to cover, at least partially, any higher tax rates from the fiscal cliff. To sign up for Jim Cramer's free Booyah! newsletter with all of his latest articles and videos please click here. To watch replays of Cramer's video segments, visit the Mad Money page on CNBC. -- Written by Scott Rutt in Washington, D.C. To email Scott about this article, click here: Scott Rutt Follow Scott on Twitter @ScottRutt or get updates on Facebook, ScottRuttDC
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