Vowing to Focus on the Fundamentals

Simply follow the crowd to Janus Twenty? Or go along with the happy-go-lucky online buyers? No way.
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Is tax-loss selling over? Will there be a pop today? Can we actually buy laggards rather than shun them? No matter how many new years come and go, I find professionals are always anxious about questions like these.

Or how about this way to invest: Everybody in mutual fund land now knows that in 1998 the

(JAVLX)

Janus Twenty fund was as hot as a pistol. It is only a matter of time before the monthlies put the manager on the cover and billions will be headed his way. We know from

Barron's

that the manager believes his 20 stocks have much more room to grow, so he won't be thinking about taking any profits, he will be thinking about buying. So, why should we buy laggards? Shouldn't we be buying what Janus Twenty likes, knowing that his record will get him more money and more money means more buying? Makes a ton of sense for some, I am sure.

Or, should we simply focus on what the online buyers want? We know they aren't sensitive to price. How else would they buy

SkyMall

(SKYM)

up 40 points even as its founders are bailing out at a fraction of that price? Shouldn't we just try to mimic what this band of happy-go-lucky buyers likes, knowing that there is

no

price high enough for them to take us out? Another non-Buffett idea that merits attention as the new year begins.

Or do we retreat to, oh yes, how boring, the fundamentals, and ask ourselves what companies are going to do well in 1999? Alas, it is that quaint idea that has me excited about 1999. I think that this will be a year, like every other year, where if you just figure out who is doing well -' not who has the best press releases or who Janus Twenty likes -' you will do just fine in 1999. So, that's what I am devoting this week, as in all other weeks in 1999, to finding out.

Random musings

Okay high-horse journalists, here is a hot-button issue for '99: I think that all journalism, online and off, should be freshness dated, time-stamped if you will, telling you when it was written. I know I am going to push for this every chance I get in 1999. When you read those monthlies that arrive soon, ask yourself how much better they would be if you only knew the date the article was submitted and the time when the article was put to bed by the editor.

I know in 1999 I am giving up on writing about the market for monthlies. I will write book reviews, maybe even longer-term think pieces, but I will no longer write about the market, because if you freshness dated my stuff you would realize you were reading something I thought of months before. In a time when the market has intraday moves like

America Online's

(AOL)

lifetime move on Thursday, can you really use the stock stuff found in monthlies? I don't think so. But because the public is not wise to when these articles were written, they are fooled into believing this stuff is fresh.

Join me in calling for the editors of all financial monthlies to freshness date their copy. That way we know whether something we are taking action on in the third week of January wasn't written in November, when many, many things were quite different. Think about it: How good is stuff written

before

the last Fed ease, when the writers and sources had no idea there would be another ease. Or how about stuff written in October before the second ease. At least, if we knew when it was written, we could value it for what it really is worth: a grain of salt.

If editors are unwilling to do this for the readers, they should at least do it for their customers -- the advertisers -- who have a right to know that the stuff they are advertising against is often weeks, if not months, older than the cover date that the reader thinks is a sign of freshness.

If you agree, send email the editors of those monthlies and get the ball rolling. I'm sure all the journalists at these monthlies agree that the notion of the cover date as the date when material is still fresh amounts to little more than a thinly-veiled lie that no one from a beer company or a pharmaceutical concern would ever try to get away with.

James J. Cramer is manager of a hedge fund and co-chairman of TheStreet.com. 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.