You've got to love a market that sees new highs for

Merrill Lynch


. When Mother Merrill goes up, that's a sign of strong health for so many different parts of the economy that I usually have to fight myself not to be longer when it happens.

For Merrill to hit new highs, we have to have both bond and stock markets in good spirits, a solid underwriting calendar and hopes that the


tightenings might be reaching a conclusion in the foreseeable future. It also might mean that the Old Economy, the part of the economy that has been scalded by the Net, may be making a comeback. I think that's possible because I believe Merrill Lynch's online plans -- all the ease, speed and cost savings of online with a human touch when you need it -- could be the big home run of this year.

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If these prognostications pay off, we could be in for a rocking good time for much more than just Merrill.

I am a huge believer that certain stocks can forecast the health of markets. Merrill's stock is one of those accurate forecasters. It is a terrific thermometer and it tells me that the bull isn't going away anytime soon.

This run of Merrill, which was not takeover-driven, could mean clear sailing for the next few months, for more than just the


. I never fret too much when the bull is back.

Oddly, there is one place where the bull hasn't paid a visit: the Merrill research department. I can't recall a more negative group. Maybe they should pay less attention to their data and more to what the stock price is saying. It has a much better record of late than they do.

James J. Cramer is manager of a hedge fund and co-founder of At time of publication, his fund was long Merrill Lynch. His fund often buys and sells securities that are the subject of his columns, both before and after the columns are published, and the positions that his fund takes may change at any time. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks. Cramer's writings provide insights into the dynamics of money management and are not a solicitation for transactions. While he cannot provide investment advice or recommendations, he invites you to comment on his column at