Looks like I struck a raw nerve with this manipulation-at-the-close of-the-
issue. I got home last night to find over 100 emails, many from first-timers, who are similarly horrified that the formerly sacrosanct closing prices have become a big joke.
It didn't start out this way. If I had to pinpoint when the "close" became a game to get a stock going it would have to be with the disorganization of the ECNs at night. Once the poohbas could not agree on one central market after the close it became a true free-for-all where people can make stocks dance to any tune they want. Nobody wants this, but the egos are too big and the tech moves too fast, so we have all settled upon a corrupt, debased standard that is getting worse by the day.
Because the after-hours markets now have no rigor or semblance of fairness, that laxity has extended to regular trading. (Did the asleep-at-the-switch regulators actually think that regular-hours discipline was going to seep into after-hours chaos by itself?) Now we routinely have situations where people "name their own price" to close a stock for the press to pick up on. They want the stock down to make the chart look heavy or beleaguer the longs; they can accomplish that goal very easily. They simply put in a trade that is wildly out of whack with the regular market and make it stick (As I said, I see it done nightly in
It is like clockwork that this
stock gets marked down.) They want a stock to look strong to get the attention of the business press? They can goose it on no volume.
Some of you said, "So what, the fundamentals will win out." To which I say, give me a break. A dirty market, which is what our market is becoming at the close, is not a fair, free market that will allow the fundamentals to surface.
When the same kind of junk started happening on the
New York Stock Exchange
last year I called attention to it and got some big-time investigations going into specialists actions. The abuses were corrected.
Now it's the
turn to help level the playing field. The
surveillance team, the best in the business, should check who is manipulating these prices at the close. The NASD knows every trade. They can track it down. One or two high-profile investigations of these blatant manipulations will at least stem the tide until we figure out a better way to trade off hours.
If they don't, here is what happens: We will all want to own the stocks that get manipulated upward every night and we will all want to sell the stocks that get manipulated downward. How the companies are doing underneath will mean nothing.
Come on regulators! Step in! Do your jobs! Help relevel the playing field before it gets too broken up that we have to call the game!
James J. Cramer is manager of a hedge fund and co-founder of TheStreet.com. At time of publication, his fund was long TheStreet.com, and Cramer was long TheStreet.com. 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