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The most misunderstood factor in this great bull market is you, the individual. The professionals have always maintained a healthy contempt for the individual. If you had to epitomize the individual in the eyes of the professional manager, it would be something like this: "A know-nothing buyer of what is hot who chases trends and buys dips and will soon be wiped out."
That analysis is what makes the professional so resentful of this market, so contemptuous of the near term even as he may believe in the long term.
It's stupid and it is wrong.
My experience with the individual investor, and I have probably interacted with more of them than anyone on this planet, is that he is a smart buyer of stocks when some piece of news causes professionals to panic and sell stocks. He likes to buy and hold. He likes to buy quality. He does more homework than you would believe. He buys weakness in the stock market because he buys things on sale, just like at a department store. He reads all he can about his stocks in all of the personal finance magazines and feels more confident about them than the pros do because he has been conditioned that quality comes back.
In fact, if the individual has a weakness, it's that he
wants to sell. He has been conditioned to believe that paying taxes is the dumbest thing he can do. He literally would rather lose money in the short term than pay taxes ever. That's such a silly concept, but it's one that he'll simply not change.
The impact of the individual is constantly misinterpreted. Ever since 1987, the individual has put money into the market on crashes, crashettes and mini-declines. He does that because, rationally, it's the most responsible and rewarding way to invest. But in every single decline, the media and the professionals are possessed by the idea that the individual will panic out.
Some of this comes from the fact that it's simply impossible to get the media to ever make a judgment that someone who feels this way is
not worth having on TV
, so every time the market goes down the media produces
, who reiterates a stance that has no basis in empirical fact or history, but no one questions him on it. Or the media taps into a guy like Jim Stack in Whitefish, Mont. I found myself Friday defending the market against Stack's projection made earlier in the week that the market was about to have a huge crash. I wanted to say, "That guy has no more legitimacy than a politician who has never won an election. Why do you put him on against me, who actually has had great success turning these selloffs into money?" But that would just be perceived as being rude.
Of course, one day these bears could be right, but how much money do they have to cost you before their legitimacy is called into question?
Why is there this contempt for the individuals who believe in the market and react positively to the declines? I think it has to do with a refusal to recognize that the traditional tools of valuation aren't embraced by individuals and that individuals are now more powerful than institutions.
How does this play out? How does the intersection of the individual's tenets and the professional's contempt for the individual manifest itself? OK, let's take the case of
. A professional says that there has to be some price that can't be paid for growth, some price at which growth is overvalued. So he has to sell Cisco. As his doctrine requires him to sell at some unreasonable price -- and that price was reached several years and several multiple points ago -- he can
get back in. It would simply not be rigorous enough. It would be too untruthful, too intellectually dishonest.
The individual, on the other hand, believes there is no price that can't be paid for quality because quality has consistently gone up for as long as anyone can remember. Not only does the individual stay long regardless of price, he thinks it's a sin to sell, because the tax man takes something that belonged to the individual
the sale and was counted as part of that individual's net worth. When the two are combined -- the skeptical, "rigorous" professionals who must sell and the believing individuals who don't know how to sell -- you get a market that goes higher whether the professional likes it or not.
James J. Cramer is manager of a hedge fund and co-founder of TheStreet.com. At time of publication, his fund was long Cisco Systems. 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