Okay, admit it, you're scared. I know I am. After all, we've gone up what seems like a jillion points in a straight line since July 23 points, with hardly a back-to-back down day, and now we've just been thrown for a 99-point loss right on top of a 70-point decline.
Wave after wave of index programs decimated the market yesterday. We were literally saved by the bell. Had the market closed at 4:30 instead of 4:00 the velocity alone could have taken us down another 50 points, easy.
And two things have changed since the summer. One, Alan Greenspan is no longer on our side. He's now in the "no Japanese bubble on my watch" phase. Second, we don't have Robert Stansky coming in at the helm of Magellan Fund, sitting on billions of cash and bonds and just dying to get his hands on high tech growth stocks. And third, AMG says mutual fund outflows¿yes, the word is outflows--totalled $3 billion over the past week.
So does it mean we should run for the hills, lock in what we can, and be glad that we stayed in this long?
I'm a big believer in the fallibility of my own judgment, and I haven't yet been willing to buy this week's decline. Other professionals might not either, for one simple reason: We don't have to. Plenty of people around the Street have had decent years and the only thing we can do at this point is screw it up by buying the dip. In fact, most of us secretly want the Dow Jones down, if only just to make our performances better versus the indices. I know plenty of guys rooting for Dow 6000 so they can tell their investors that the reason why they had so much cash or hadn't been playing was because they anticipated the downturn.
We probably won't see a good tape again until we are so oversold that the sellers have exhausted themselves.
But let's step back from the abyss and take a look, unemotionally, at what we do know.
1. The U.S. is in the best shape of any developed market in the world. Plenty of markets have had big runs this year and may be ahead of themselves. Our market, however, has the best underlying fundamentals, both corporate and political.
2. The Japanese, German and UK markets seem far more problematic than ours. England has a shaky government and a too-strong currency. Germany has stagflation, the equity market killer. Japan still hasn't bit the bullet for its problem loans and shows no sign of having the political will to do so.
3. Liquidity is still abundant. With bond yields on the long end pretty low, equities will still be attractive.
None of these salves feels like my 2-year-old's nice warm blanky. All of them could still apply if we dropped 600 points. But as someone who believes stocks get cheaper as they go down--not more expensive as momentum players do--I will be looking for good bargains today and expect to deploy lots of cash in my favorite tech names on a ginger scale all the way down.
I get paid to call bottoms. I don't see one yet, but in my 18 years of trading I've never called one exactly right yet. Don't see why this time will be any different. But the long side is not going away this easily.
James Cramer is manager of a hedge fund and co-chairman of The Street.