Calling all safety stocks!
Yes, the shocking dearth of stocks that you don't have to worry about struck us a new feature for this decline. All day as the Net was pounded and the financials were wounded and tech traded sporadically, I kept waiting for the old faves, the drugs, cosmetics and beverage stocks to get some traction.
They never did.
At one of my meetings today with my partner, Jeff Berkowitz, I threw up my hands in despair and said "Where are the
of today? Where are those go-to stocks you can count on when the buzzer is only seconds away?"
Indeed, there seemed to be only two of them today,
, with a half-hearted attempt by
to rally. What a difference from a few years ago when I could have reached for
and get a big lift during the quarterly institutional rush to safety. You can't just take
any more knowing that you can sell it up a dollar or two when institutions run for cover. Philip Morris, wounded as I have ever seen it, had no lift when things got ugly today.
This is a new wrinkle and it tells you how far we have come toward making old tech the reliable standard instead of the foods and the drugs and the soaps. People, when they are stymied, now reach for
! They grab
That's all well and good for now, as those companies seem to be doing well (hence why I grabbed them.) But what I lament is that coterie of stocks that could just be banked on, that were so steady that they could be truly be labeled go-to stocks.
But one by one the fundamentals broke down on these old faves. They don't even get a lift anymore when the dollar goes down (they have lots of profits overseas and they translate into a positive when the dollar is weaker). Now they are just simply boring laggards. The drug stocks in particular seem like high-multiple boring laggards.
It is something that I truly miss about trading this market. I guess that's one reason why, when the tape gets choppy, I just reach for the bonds as a trade instead of the safety stocks. They are far more liquid and allow you to sleep better. They just lack the pop.
What a testament to American technology that the safest stocks we have now are the ones with the most manufacturing skill and ingenuity. And what a statement that the so-called safety stocks, the ones that replaced nuclear-powered utilities in our parents' portfolios in an attempt for steady growth, are more worrisome than I can ever recall.
James J. Cramer is manager of a hedge fund and co-founder of TheStreet.com. At time of publication, his fund was long Texas Instruments and Hewlett-Packard. 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