You have to look for the tells -- those trades that tell you the true direction of the market. Some of the trading you see is short-covering. Other trades may be related to derivative spillovers from programs. (Stop emailing me: You can only tell the programs from experience.)
What you want to see is real buying or selling.
One potential tell that I am looking at today is
. Here is a stock that got clocked, absolutely clocked, when it announced a massive secondary. Dropped it more than 10%. Now the secondary has occurred this morning, and it is a jillion-share hangover.
I bought stock on the deal. I am now watching to see if the market can chew through that offering. Why is this an important tell? Because secondaries are often a terrific barometer of real demand. If this deal were to languish, even after the discount it took to price it, then maybe the market is less robust than I thought. But if the stock can rally from this massive overhang, then demand may be stronger than we think.
All day there are pieces of merchandise like this: stocks placed "in the hole," or at discount, that subsequently rally to where they were -- which is a strong demand sign -- or stocks that "break the print," or go below where the merchandise would be priced. (It should go without saying that if Seagram breaks the "print" price, or where it was put on -- 50.125 -- that would be dreadful for the market.) You also see prints "above the last," such as a trade that went on in
this morning, up a couple from where it went out, that allowed you to sell. That's a sign of strength, and it is a sign of superstrength when the stock takes off from there as Circuit City did.
How can you spot all of this stuff? Pay attention to big trades that you hear or see. When I traded with my wife, the
(maligned recently in email, egads!), she used to write down every trade that went on of 100,000 shares and check periodically whether the trades were holding where they went on, rallying or breaking. It is work. It reminds me of the painstaking way I used to put speed charts together when my obsession was the ponies.
And it works.
Yes, I am writing more. This seems like an important day to me. So I am turned on. Part of the male longhorn in me.
James J. Cramer is manager of a hedge fund and co-founder of TheStreet.com. At time of publication, his fund was long Seagram. 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