You know what this market trades like? It trades like how I traded before I went to
You see, I didn't know jack about anything other than individual stocks. When I got there, I had no idea that the bond market was much bigger than the stock market. I had no idea what "the bond" meant. I didn't know that people priced trillions of dollars in merchandise off of Treasuries. What did we need to know about bonds for anyway?
Two weeks into the training program I realized that the world revolved around bonds. Periodically, certain stocks would shoot up or go down on the basis of their fundamentals but the whole market took its cue from these pieces of paper that took into account inflation, the price of money over seven, 10, 20 and 30 years, and the amount of supply and demand there was for credit and the bonds themselves.
Join the discussion on
Once I had gotten the hang of it, I realized that most people were perfectly happy to own bonds because they provided a steady income and compounded at very high rates, vs. stocks, which ultimately tended to crap out or disappoint. (Remember, this is 1982 and 1983 we are talking about, when, even though the market was just beginning its ramp, bonds provided a much better risk-adjusted rate of return.)
Bonds were extremely competitive, especially if you were thinking of pension goals or retirement plans. Institutions constantly compared the two asset classes and made choices about them.
But a few years ago rates dropped so low that they ceased to be truly competitive vs. the stock market. Now I find myself thinking that had I not known any better I would have made a ton more money in stocks last year.
Now we have two distinct markets: The market that trades off of bonds, and the tech market. As long as you don't stray from tech you will not be in the gravitational pull of the bonds. You are basically weightless. But once you get in the pull of bonds you are doomed to trade with them. And boy, do they trade awfully.
When I was reading through
surprises this morning, I thought to myself, ah, just like the old days. This stuff still drives the markets. And then I looked my screen, and it was just like the new days: Tech and the individual investor's love affair with it has nothing to do with those surprises, or with Wien's model.
The hardest thing for me to do is to go back 20 years before I knew about the gravitational pull of bonds, and put myself in the head of that crazy guy who used to buy every hot story from the pay phone outside his law school classes. That's the guy to beat. Otherwise, I will play right into the hands of gravity and get the money taken away.
James J. Cramer is manager of a hedge fund and co-founder of TheStreet.com. At time of publication, his fund was long Goldman Sachs. 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