Can't stand to hear about the Net anymore? Valuations driving you crazy? Well, what do you expect me to write about, how oil service companies are having trouble making their numbers? How
blew up after the close?
Net stocks are the only things people are thinking about these days. Any attempt to talk about savings and loans or chemicals or auto parts seems hopelessly irrelevant. Nobody cares, not one bit.
That said, there is a year-end phenomenon at work, one that has a huge impact on groups like this. People want to show they own winners. If this group had faltered somehow in November and not come back, the vigor with which people are piling in to them would subside rather dramatically.
But if you don't show that you own any Net stocks and you run money professionally, the discussion goes like this:
Investor Jeff: "So, what do you think of the Net stocks?"
Manager Jim: "They are stupid, the valuations are so out of control. I like the stock of
National Gift Wrap and Box Company
. It sells at $24 but has book of $12 and one day it will get a takeover as management is committed to bringing out value. In the meantime it pays 2.5% and I can sleep at night."
Investor Jeff: "Do you think all of these stocks are just bubbles? Can't you get comfortable with any of them?"
Manager Jim: "No way, they are all ridiculous."
Investor Jeff: "While that is very prudent, my other managers have made a fortune in these, so I have to go with them."
The only way to combat that rather obvious conversation is to say, "Hey, I own some
. It has a good business model and it is making money." Or, "The Web portal business could be huge so I am long some
." Or, "A lot of them make no sense to me, but I have become comfortable with the plan
has put in place."
Then at least you have a fighting chance to keep the money and get more in. But to be able to say that, you have to get long. You have to buy. And when you are running $1 billion or more, as many people do these days, you can't just own a couple of thousand
. You have to have a full position in the name, meaning a couple of a percent at a minimum. A couple of a percent of $1 billion is a ton of money and you have to compete with dozens of other managers playing the same game. Consequently, you get stocks up 25 or 30 points.
That said, one point I must stress: These particular price moves are like no others I have seen in my life. The sheer velocity, coupled with the lack of any profit-taking, is nothing short of incredible to me and to everybody who trades professionally. The simultaneous ascension of Internet traders, of Internet commerce and the paucity, still, of Internet shares relative to the demand, is a level of serendipity that nobody banked on.
It is not difficult to be both shocked and numbed. The runs these stocks are having are just staggering. The market's lack of rigor in valuation, the sheer craziness of it all, defies anything I have ever believed could happen. And I'm a believer in the Net. I can't recall a time when the market was less skeptical, more gullible, more willing to overlook fanciful claims and buy into the rap of virtually anything Net.
And yet it goes on.
One day maybe we will look back and say, How come nobody said, "Hey, this is crazy. These things can't all be winners"? Not every company is going to make hay on the Net. Some of these companies have nothing. But by then maybe things will have doubled or tripled again. Once something gets overvalued, it gets that much easier to get twice or three times as overvalued.
Until then, the gold rush of 1998 continues unabated. And who am I to tell you there's no gold in them there hills when we have seen billions in gold created already?
James J. Cramer is manager of a hedge fund and co-chairman of TheStreet.com. At the time of publication, the fund was long Yahoo, AOL and Lycos, 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 a letter to TheStreet.com at