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NEW YORK (
) -- It's time to stop and smell the roses because for all of the doom and gloom that shrouded 2012, it turned out to be a pretty good year after all, Jim Cramer told
Cramer said that while the naysayers have already turned their sights on the next battle in Washington -- the debt ceiling -- normal investors should take a moment to pause and reflect on all that actually went right in 2012.
Just last week we were facing the possibility of higher taxes for all, fewer incentives for investing and an almost guaranteed recession. But today, all of those things are in our rear-view mirror, Cramer said. While no one is happy with the deal we ultimately got, it brings a certainty to the market that it desperately needed.
There were a lot of things that went right in 2012, Cramer reminded viewers. He said the housing stocks came back to life as did the financials, two key sectors for the American economy. Technology was also able to end the year on a high note. As today's acquisition of
proved, mergers and acquisitions also remain alive and well, all great things for 2013.
Cramer said there are always plenty of opportunities out there, which is why he's always taken heed of the skeptics but ignored the cynics. He said only those investors who can see through the Washington smokescreen will be able to see 2013's diamonds in the rough as they begin to appear.
Off the Charts
Where are the markets headed in 2013? Cramer went "Off The Charts" with analysis from colleague Bob Lang to find out. Lang took his cues from the
, which tracks the
iShares Russell 2000
, which tracks the small-cap stocks.
Using a monthly chart going back to 1999, Lang noted the Nasdaq is now within 50 points of its all-time high, in 1999. He said if the QQQ can break out above $70, there will be little resistance and smooth sailing thereafter. A weekly chart of the QQQ showed similar bullish trends, with a clear consolidating occurring during the end of the year, but the MACD momentum indicator still pointing into positive territory.
Lang was equally bullish on the
outlook. His analysis of the iShares daily chart noted a bullish cup-and-handle pattern, with the MACD indicator once again signaling that the move higher has only just begun. Also of interest, Lang noted the first quarter has historically been a bullish one for the small-cap index, with 2008 being the only exception in recent memory.
Cramer said while he's not willing to base his entire 2013 trading strategy on technical analysis alone, the charts are so compelling that this year is shaping up to be a good one for the markets.
The Obvious Choice
Sometimes the best investment is the most obvious one, Cramer reminded viewers. So when the headlines point out that auto sales are on fire and the U.S. is on track to build as many as 15.3 million cars this year, the best way to play it is with the best-run U.S. automaker,
Cramer said Ford shares are just off their 52-week high and deservedly so. The company now has three of the top 10 best-selling cars worldwide, including the Ford Focus, which recently took the top spot as THE best-selling car worldwide.
The bear case against Ford has been its European business, which had been dragging down the entire company. But thanks to aggressive cost cutting, Europe is no longer a factor, said Cramer, and CEO Alan Mulally has indicated he's willing to cut even further if need be.
Elsewhere in the world, sales are increasing for Ford in China, as the company now expects Asia to account for a full 32% of sales by 2020, up from just 15% in 2010. Latin America is also poised for a comeback, noted Cramer.
Back at home, Cramer said, Ford has stability in its labor agreements through 2015 and its commodity costs are heading in the right direction, all of which has allowed the company to clean up its balance sheet to a point where its debt is finally being considered investment grade. Cramer said the debt upgrades will only hasten Ford's recovery as the company will be able to pay less in interest going forward.
In the Lightning Round, Cramer was bullish on
Dicks Sporting Goods
Cramer was bearish on
While U.S. lawmakers have been busy fighting among themselves, the rest of the world has working on fixing their economies, Cramer told viewers, which is why one of 2013's biggest investing trends may become "anywhere but here." That's why he took a close look at markets around the globe to find some international opportunities that investors can use to diversify their portfolios.
Cramer said that after decades of a flatlined economy, Japan may now be on the mend, thanks to a new prime minister who's willing to stimulate growth by any means necessary. He suggested the
as his ETF of choice in Japan.
China also remains promising, said Cramer, as that country's leadership is finally getting things right, after a few years of getting things totally wrong. He said the
iShares FTSE China 25
, an ETF which he owns for his charitable trust,
Action Alerts PLUS, is his favorite China play.
Cramer was also bullish on Europe, telling viewers they need to be invested in the region before the bottom becomes obvious to everyone. His ETF recommendation in Europe was the
Vanguard MSCI Europe
, another Action Alerts PLUS holding.
Other areas of interest included the
iShares S&P India Nifty 50
to play the growth in India, the
iShares MSCI Mexico
, to gain exposure to the booming Latin American economy, and its counterpart,
iShares MSCI Brazil
, as a way to play Brazil.
No Huddle Offense
In his "No Huddle Offense" segment, Cramer once again sounded off against the so-called "risk on, risk off" investing strategy. He said this hedge fund lingo isn't really a strategy at all and certainly didn't serve investors well in 2012.
Cramer said the
delivered a 13.5% return in 2012, but also a 16% return if you included reinvested dividends. The problem is, if you're constantly trading in and out of stocks, you likely didn't get those dividends at all, let alone have a chance to reinvest them.
Then there's the strategy itself. What's risky? What isn't? Europe was supposedly risky, yet both European stocks and bonds fared pretty well in 2012, especially if you picked the right ones. Even as a sector strategy, those that were deemed most risky turned out to be the best investments.
In the end, "risk on risk off" ends up just turning into "buy high, sell low," said Cramer, and that's a strategy individual investors need to avoid in 2013.
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-- Written by Scott Rutt in Washington, D.C.
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At the time of publication, Cramer's Action Alerts PLUS had a position in FXI and VGK.
Jim Cramer, host of the CNBC television program "Mad Money," is a Markets Commentator for TheStreet.com, Inc., and CNBC, and a director and co-founder of TheStreet.com. All opinions expressed by Mr. Cramer on "Mad Money" are his own and do not reflect the opinions of TheStreet.com or its affiliates, or CNBC, NBC Universal or their parent company or affiliates. Mr. Cramer's opinions are based upon information he considers to be reliable, but neither TheStreet.com, nor CNBC, nor either of their affiliates and/or subsidiaries warrant its completeness or accuracy, and it should not be relied upon as such. Mr. Cramer's statements are based on his opinions at the time statements are made, and are subject to change without notice. No part of Mr. Cramer's compensation from CNBC or TheStreet.com is related to the specific opinions expressed by him on "Mad Money."
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