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If you want revelations, go over the largest-cap companies right now vs. the ones that were the largest-cap last year at this time. The stocks, the losses, the changes, they are staggering.
First, the aggregate: The largest 100 companies a year ago were worth $8 trillion; they're now worth $5 trillion. That's a lot of missing trillions. In the day-to-day drudgery and decline, they seem largely unaccounted for until you look at each line item.
You lose that much capital in bizarre ways. Consider last year's top five capitalization stocks.
, a stock everyone says is the most stable in the world, goes from $459 billion to $357 billion.
-- like Exxon, a company with a fabulous recurring earnings stream -- goes from $264 billion to $160 billion. Dependable
sheds about $90 billion from $228 billion to $135 billion.
Procter & Gamble
, which everyone thinks of as having a bad year, dropped about $50 billon from $204 billion to $150 billion.
But then there's
. It stood at $347 billion last year this week. It is now barely about $100 billion. Terrible, but not when you consider the other financials -- and there is no doubt with that loss that anyone is thinking GE is anything
a financial. Take
Bank of America
, which has gone from $197 billion to $24 billion,
, which has retreated to $13 billion from $125 billion, and the colossal disappearing act of
, going from $116 billion to $7 billion.
The declines are so staggering that you find yourself thinking only one thing: How could we have ever trusted these pieces of paper with our nest eggs? Plus, the "terminal" value of some of these stocks, such as BAC, C, AIG, is catastrophic. They aren't coming back.
Within the carnage, though, it is important to single out a couple of names because, in keeping with last night's "Survivor show," these definitely qualify. First is
. This one's barely down and is doing fabulously, well ensconced in the plus-$100 billion market cap world. It is, by the way, universally despised by all my tech friends as an also-ran and a loser. Of course, though, they are short it.
, another stock that is now hated. It has the same market capitalization as it did last year. In fact, it is now, as of last night, exceeding it. To me the issue here is how can it
go higher? Retailing has to be the most zero-sum game in town right now. You simply can see all of the net worth of people going from
to Wal-Mart. Why not? At the same time that they have gotten bad, WMT's gotten better!
hangs in like a champ at roughly the same level as last year, and I would push it hard here if I wasn't worried about the dollar soaring against the depressing euro. Buffett non-fave
Johnson & Johnson
also travels slightly below its level last year, just enough to make it attractive.
Away from those stalwarts, there's not much good news to report, just endless 30% to 50% declines except for the rare staple that lost 10% to 15% or a financial that lost almost all.
There is, however, one bit of joy in this carnage. And that's
. First, in terms of wealth creation, nothing's better than an initial public offering to add capitalization back into a list. Visa didn't exist as a stock last year, and now it is worth slightly less than $50 billion. Why does it matter? Because in a world in which Citigroup and Bank of America and
and AIG are disappearing, the funds who look at the world through the weightings of the S&P
own a financial. Visa counts.
Look for this one to hold its own or go higher solely as a flow of funds out of all of the other financials and into this pseudo-financial that reminds me, alas -- I'm betraying my age here -- of another growth stock in a different time,
, as we gravitated from a cash to a check economy.
Perhaps the most amazing stat from this list is what it takes to get on it. Last year you had to have a market cap of $30 billion to be in the top 100. This year only $17 billion gets you on it. Whole stocks that we thought were big-cap are now mid-cap, with mid-caps now small-caps. All the indices now seem to be misrepresenting themselves.
The changes are so vast and so overwhelming that you really can have only one takeaway: Why did we ever come to trust this paper? Why did we have so much faith in it? Because the actual indictment here isn't of the companies themselves, it is of an asset class that sheds value with a velocity that just didn't seem possible even one year ago. I, for one, find the exercise sobering because the carnage, which we think is contained largely to financials, has really spared nothing, no sector, no group. And it is obvious from this week's action that the crunching has got a way to go before it is done.
At the time of publication, Cramer was long General Electric, Johnson & Johnson, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo and Wal-Mart
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