If you give us nothing to buy, then people will sell, Jim Cramer told his Mad Money viewers Thursday, as the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged 724 points.
It was a day, he said, when all the controversies beleaguering the stock market came home to roost and with them came all of the sellers.
The biggest controversy came in the form of additional tariffs against China. Investors fear retaliation from China, and with so many American companies selling into that country, it's hard to know where the retaliation, if any, might come from.
Then there were weak industrial production numbers out of Europe, numbers so tepid that Cramer told Action Alerts PLUS members to steer clear of Europe for the time being.
Interest rates were another concern for investors. Despite a rate hike yesterday, rates fell today, sending chills though the banking sector.
Add to that a reluctance to buy tech stocks, thanks to Facebook (FB) - Get Report , fears about restaurants after Darden Restaurants (DRI) - Get Report posted weak results that sent shares plunging 7.9%, and disappointing results from General Mills (GIS) - Get Report that left consumer packaged goods in the cold -- there simply wasn't a lot for investors to latch onto.
With the markets under pressure, Cramer and the AAP team are calling PayPal (PYPL) - Get Report out of the bullpen and into the portfolio. Find out what they're telling their investment club members and get in on the conversation with a free trial subscription to Action Alerts PLUS.
What's the Problem With Tariffs?
Why are the markets so terrified about tariffs? Cramer explained that, like it or not, our economy is held hostage by the super rich. When the rich feel good, they invest more and our economy expands. But when they feel bad, they invest less and everyone feels the pain.
For years, the ethos has been that free trade equals more trade and more deals equates to more money. That's been the American way for decades and for many, it's become a religion. But President Trump doesn't necessarily share this ethos, and after pumping up the economy with tax cuts, deregulation and repatriation, he's now ready to throw water on the fire with tariffs.
Companies like FedEx (FDX) - Get Report , Starbucks (SBUX) - Get Report and Apple (AAPL) - Get Report could easily be caught in the crossfire, but that's the cost of standing up to the Chinese and fighting for a level playing field.
There's no doubt that tariffs will weigh on the markets, but they likely won't weigh as much as many people fear. It's clear that the old way of doing business and ignoring China wasn't working. It remains to be seen if standing up to them will do any better.
For the elites however, their verdict may already be in and they may already be creating a self-fulfilling prophecy by starting to curb their optimism.
Over on Real Money, Cramer says this decline, this turmoil, isn't about the Fed or interest rates. Get more of Cramer's insights with a free trial subscription to Real Money.
Investors Have Questions
In his "Voice of Cramerica" segment, Cramer took more calls from viewers on what was a tough day for individual investors.
When asked for a selloff strategy, Cramer said he'd suggest raising cash now, so that investors will be ready to buy once we learn all of the specifics on what the tariffs will entail.
As for what to buy when the selling subsides, Cramer said the high-growth names will be the first to bounce, and he'll be betting on retail, domestic stocks and FANG (his acronym for Facebook, Amazon (AMZN) - Get Report , Netflix (NFLX) - Get Report and Alphabet (GOOGL) - Get Report ).
As for individual names, Cramer said Thor Industries (THO) - Get Report will be challenged with both labor costs and interest rates on the rise. Investors should expect volatility in the stock. When asked about Dominion Midstream (DM) , Cramer said he'd avoid the entire oil patch for the foreseeable future.
Read Wednesday's Mad Money recap, Don't Write Off the Tech Titans.
Improving Home Improvement
The home improvement stores had been one of the few bright spots in retail, Cramer told viewers. That was, until recently. So with Home Depot (HD) - Get Report and rival Lowe's Cos. (LOW) - Get Report both off 7.5% from their highs, which one should investors be buying into the weakness?
Before the financial crisis in 2008, Cramer said his answer would have certainly been Lowe's. But in more recent years, Home Depot has emerged as the superior operator and Cramer said he thinks he knows why.
Home Depot was the first to embrace new technology, Cramer explained, leaving Lowe's behind the curve. Years ago, the company gave employees smart phones and began developing apps for everything from inventory management to customer service, something that has helped it snag more of the lucrative contractor market.
At the same time, Lowe's became distracted by acquiring Rona, a Canadian home improvement chain with 245 locations. Eventually, Rona may become a big asset for Lowe's, but at the moment, the chain is not adding to the company's bottom line.
Home Depot shares trade at 17 times earnings, compared to just 14 times for Lowe's. That multiple is warranted however, as Cramer said Lowe's is the riskier stock. That's why he's sticking with Home Depot, which continues to deliver superior same store sales growth and better earnings per share.
Executive Decision: Washington Prime Group
For his "Executive Decision" segment, Cramer sat down with Lou Conforti, CEO of Washington Prime Group (WPG) - Get Report , the 2014 spinoff of Simon Property Group (SPG) - Get Report that is off 9.4% in 2018, with retail REITs falling out of favor.
Conforti explained that for many investors, the retail market has become binary. You're either in ecommerce or you're dead. You're either in a great primary market or you're dead. But that's not how the industry works.
While it's true that many REITs have been too concentrated on national retail tenants, Washington Prime has been diversifying with a mix of local, regional and national tenants, and away from just retail, to include lifestyle and experiential tenants. To not do so would be a disservice to their tenants and the communities they serve, Conforti added.
Washington Prime is primarily a town center operator and had a 93% occupancy rate at the end of 2017. Conforti noted that their 15% yield should not be seen as a red flag, as the distribution is well covered with their current financials.
In the Lightning Round, Cramer was bullish on American Electric Power (AEP) - Get Report , Applied Materials (AMAT) - Get Report , Fifth Third Bancorp (FITB) - Get Report , Huntington Bancshares (HBAN) - Get Report and First Horizon National (FHN) - Get Report .
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At the time of publication, Cramer's Action Alerts PLUS had a position in PYPL, FB, AAPL, AMZN, GOOGL.