The sheer number of variables that go into a stock's price move defies the odds-makers daily.
Let's take a day's worth of
trading. I came in long Intel on Friday. We had heard the Intel presentation earlier in the week, had dinner with Intel and had checked in with virtually every Intel analyst all week to be sure that Intel wasn't going to be hurt by the low-end price war.
On Thursday, Mark Edelstone, the incredibly influential chip analyst from
Morgan Stanley Dean Witter
squawked that he liked Intel very much at the $131 level, which juiced the stock -- and us -- into taking some more Intel.
We figured that Edelstone, a numbers guy, had a good take on how the first quarter is cooking. Edelstone's comments were verified repeatedly during multiple sessions with other tech companies at the important Goldman conference.
Then the world turned upside down Friday. A
note, put up overnight, from Dan Niles at
revenue numbers into question.
No matter that Niles hasn't been a bull on Dell, the computer company reports this week, and it was too close to that report date to refute Niles' call with any authority. The company can't announce the day before it is due to report just to try to deal with Niles' call (although I remember before
became an also-ran, it did this a couple of times when the bears had it on the ropes.)
So the silence was defeaning. The stock tumbled from the get-go. Of course, if Dell goes down, so goes Intel. It does so regardless of what it said just the other day.
I tried to off-load the Intel I had bought on Edelstone's call at the opening. The start of the market on Friday was weird. As it was clear that Dell would color everything, the tech world was surprisingly upbeat at 9:30. In fact, the first thing that happened was that
rallied. I sold some Intel but then kept some back because of the Soft rally.
The rally in Mister Softee was incredibly visible at 9:35 a.m. as the 163 bid kept growing and then people started taking 163.25 stock. I know I started screaming to Jeff Berkowitz, my partner, "What am I missing? What am I missing?" as if I were going left when everyone was going right. I stopped selling everything else I was trying to kick out.
"Did the government screw up?" I continued. "I thought the government was starting to do better, looking like a win for the Feds. Maybe we are wrong on this Dell impact call. Maybe it's not that important." Finally, Jeff shut me up with " 'Soft is wrong. 'Soft's a false tell. We gotta go some 'Soft and 'Tel."
It shook me out of my reverie, and I immediately blasted out of my trading stock in both of them. 'Soft kept climbing for another five or ten minutes, and then it and Intel began their long dives. They never reversed course for the rest of the day.
The funny thing about a potential Dell shortfall is that a slowdown in revenues literally impacts just about every aspect of the personal-computer business -- that' s how big Dell is now.
So at what level do you buy back your Intel if at all, especially if you believe, as I do, that all of the negatives about Dell are probably overblown at this point ?
One by one, the adherents of Dell "reiterated" their buys, but to no avail. So throughout the midday, it dragged along Intel with it, right through the impeachment proceedings. Then at 2 p.m. word swept the Street that Tom Kurlak had quit
to go to
, the giant hedge fund. There was a time when Kurlak's name was synonymous with Intel, and I would have blown out a ton of the chipmaker's stock if we had still been in that mode.
But Tom missed this move -- weirdly he will be known by newbies as the man who missed this move, as opposed to the man I know who pioneered the notion that Intel was a great manufacturer, that transcended the simple notion of boom-bust p.c. technology. Oddly, the man who made Intel a mainstream core holding had no impact, or even a ripple, on the market now that he is moving to my side of the Street.
As Intel headed to $126 I bought some of my stock back, on the assumption that cooler heads would prevail Tuesday. I recall that even in the horrendous selling earlier in the week Intel held the $122 level, and it was still above that. I would have bought more, but I am just plain scared of these mirror
mutual funds that accentuate the direction of the NDX. Intel is such a huge part of the NDX, that it would be suicidal on a down day now to go in at any time other than 3:59, when the NDX is down, because these manipulators will just nail you with their selling.
There was also no hurry because Intel is now such a huge part of
the S&P 500
that you have to worry about sell programs taking money out of stock and into bonds -- especially with bonds in a freefall as they were on Friday. Not surprisingly, as Dell kept going lower and NDX funds did their dirty deeds, the close of Intel was downright nasty. It did not matter that Intel, in this very week, had spoken and spoken positively. In the end, this stock was held hostage to much larger variables, and on Friday those variables were all flashing negative.
Fortunately, with Intel, we won't have to wait long to see if we can buy again. Both Dell and
report this week, and these stocks will set the chipmaker's equity in motion again.
That's what makes this game so great: It never ends.
James J. Cramer is manager of a hedge fund and co-founder of TheStreet.com. At the time of publication, the fund was long Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft and Intel, although positions can 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 by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.