Talk about a market looking for leadership. Now we are supposed to follow the oil and oil service stocks? Because oil inventories were down for a few nanoseconds? Jeez! I mean why don't we just make leaders of the lead and zinc stocks for a few hours? An equal-opportunity leadership program.
What does it mean when
(or, as I prefer it, SLOB) suddenly come alive with pleasure? It usually means that guys like me, traders, start getting excited about some oversold group and plunge in. We, of course, are hoping that other plungers who are less swift, or analysts who have stuck with the ne'er-do-well group all the way down and can't resist the old "reiterate buy" move, now come in today and take us out at higher prices.
In the days when I used to trade with my wife, she had this stuff down like a paint-by-numbers painting. "Oh, look at that take in Baker Hughes," she would shout at me, like I was looking at anything other than an annual report. Somebody's trying to get
short some Nabors. Looks like a big cleanup print's going to go up in
-- you want to be there." Gen-u-ine homespun trader-speak from the Goddess of Trading.
What's really going on here when these dormant groups come alive for a few hours in the sun? Are these just cicadas making a move after 15 years beneath the ground?
Typically, to have spontaneous combustion in a group, what you need is one part cleanup, one part news and one part short-covering. So let's go over all three.
At any given time, there are large sellers of stocks. Most of the time there are large buyers, too. That's why stocks don't gyrate in tens of points; they just gyrate in point moves. Sometimes, however, there are just sellers. Sometimes some groups are so darn awful and hated that nobody wants them. But people want out of them because they want the losses, or they need the capital, or they are tired of lugging something that's not working.
With the drillers, there are nothing but sellers because the fundamentals are plain terrible and numbers -- the lifeblood of the business -- keep coming down. Let's say you were National Gift Wrap & Mutual Fund Co. and you ran a billion dollars. Maybe you made an oil service bet two years ago when these stocks were headed to the moon. You, of course, have since been fired. National's new man comes in, and he wants drillers like he wants head lice. He goes to his favorite desk and says, "OK, I have 1 million shares of Hal and 2 million shares of
and 3 million shares of
, and I want to be out of them as soon as possible without wrecking the stocks."
The broker you give that order to then begins the long, drawn-out process of trying to find buyers of yellow snow in Alaska. Sure enough, over time, with enough effort and enough bottom-fishers -- if there are any left out there -- the merchandise gets placed over a few weeks time. When the broker is down to "tag ends," people like my wife would be alert enough to notice that Goldman's no longer pounding the drillers into submission. Others might get a call -- "We are cleaning up a large seller of SLOB" -- and get intrigued. Still others actually just like to buy stocks when the have been forced down unnaturally for a trade.
At the same time, there is always some piece of news that can be spun positively when these rallies are right. Some oil future went up. Some pipeline went down. Some dollop of world tension.
Finally, with groups that act as poorly as the drillers, there is always someone shooting against them, shorting them knowing that this sell pattern is occurring and figuring they can profit from the downside. They get greedy and don't cover their shorts when they should.
Put the cleanup, the news and the short-seller in the stew, and you've got bull chowder.
How long can you munch on this thin gruel? Usually only as long as the companies can keep their mouths shut. Because the moment they open them, they emit lower forecasts and the downturn begins again. Judging by the way
squawked yesterday that it couldn't make the estimates, I trust that this rotation won't last much longer. Or as my wife would say, "Hey, good for a couple of points while it lasted. On to the next group!"
James J. Cramer is manager of a hedge fund and co-founder 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.