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Jim Cramer: The Uncertainty That Ails This Market

NEW YORK (Real Money) -- Here's the problem. The data are now corrupt. We have nothing that can be used to bolster a bull case.

When we see a weak number for, say, housing, we can say, "Oh yeah, nobody went to look for a house." But that doesn't mean much in a world where the auto stocks have been crushed, when they've reported bad numbers. It doesn't mean much at all, in fact, when you think about the number of cars on the lot.

So we are naturally suspicious.

Same thing with China. You know, I am opening this Mexican small-plate restaurant -- Bar San Miguel on Smith Street in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. I am trying to get an order in for printed bags for customers to take out leftover food. The Chinese mill, though, is closed, as it closes every year for the Lunar New Year. In previous years we hadn't been worried about such a downshift. Now we are. So the closed mill is taken as a sign of a larger slowdown -- even though it isn't!

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We are seeing the exact same thing with the poor retail sales. Who can trust these numbers? Who went out in this weather?

At the same time, though, how do we know that people aren't permanently changing their habits right now in response to better ways to shop? Last night on Mad Money, I had on two terrific women who started a company called Birchbox. I did the homework and, for the life of me, I couldn't figure out who would pay $10 a month (for women) or $20 a month (for men) for a little box with a sampling of different toiletry products to arrive at your house. There are lots of samples in the boxes, as well as one fairly sizable nonsample of some product you probably have never heard of.

Turns out my daughter wants it. She's tired of going to the mall to try things out and not being able to do much other than look at the shades or get a tiny sample from a Sephora or a Kiehl's. Why not just pay the subscription fee? Then, if you like it, you order it and the product comes right to your home. 400,000 people belong to Birchbox, for heaven's sake. That's 400,000 people who may not be as inclined to go to the mall. Needless to say, the millions of people who shop (AMZN - Get Report) Prime feel the same way.

Yep, the mall has got a few strikes against it: Parking may be inconvenient; you may not want to wait at a register; you may not be getting the lowest prices; and you probably want the stuff delivered to your house anyway. You just might not have wanted to switch because you are a mall user by force of habit. If the weather has taken you out of the mall loop, however, and you still need stuff, although not at that red-hot minute, then Birchbox and Amazon Prime are for you. You might never go back to your old ways.

Who knows, though? The sun comes out for a bit, the mall stores have some sales and you are back in the saddle. But then again, maybe you just like the personal touch of Birchbox. We're all pretty acclimated to giving people are credit cards and waiting for goods these days.

So, homes, shopping, cars, who knows? That's what's really ailing the market. If you have no certainty, how on Earth are you supposed to be able to make judgments?

At the time of publication, Action Alerts PLUS, which Cramer co-manages as a charitable trust, had no positions in the securities mentioned.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published at 6:51 a.m. EST on Real Money on Feb. 4.

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Chart of I:DJI
DOW 17,750.91 -140.25 -0.78%
S&P 500 2,063.37 -18.06 -0.87%
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