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When you get together with a group of seasoned managers, you get to hear first-hand the contempt that the professionals have for this market.
First, understand that far from saying the standard "nobody understands this wacky market," these managers understand it all too well. They have seen pretty much everything at one time or another, and they know in their hearts that the market is, ultimately, just a popularity contest short-term and a business-valuation method long-term.
What they didn't know was the definition of "short-term." They didn't know that in the short-term the popularity contest could be so vicious -- and so rewarding for the pure-oxygen optimists -- that it would put their digging-in-the-heels fundamental work to shame.
So perhaps it is a good moment to talk about what it is that so irritates the professionals about this market.
First, the professionals truly believe in the notion that they are investing in businesses not stocks. I like that notion. I used to believe in it. It made me money for a long time. When it is right again, I will switch back to it because I am pretty good at it. It's what I started with, how I was honed, and it makes a ton of sense to me.
Somewhere along the line, however, perhaps because I was a journalist in a previous life, perhaps because I am by nature a nihilist at work who leaves the beliefs at home, I came to view the market from a different perspective. I came to view it as the logical intersection of the following tenets, which I hold to be self-evident:
- Supply can be manipulated to spur demand.
Demand determines which stocks go up.
Never underestimate the power of the Wall Street promotion-mutual-fund-affection machine.
Everybody in the end is driven to find the next
Microsoft (MSFT) - Get Microsoft Corporation Report,
Cisco (CSCO) - Get Cisco Systems, Inc. Report and
Intel (INTC) - Get Intel Corporation Report because of how much money those stocks have made, regardless of the possibility that their choices won't pan out over the long term.
To sell is wrong; to buy is right. Taxes are the ultimate evil.
These five points are the backbone of my thinking about the current market. They were arrived at by the recognition that I am in a business, not a religion. My business must perform well enough to be able to attract new money, keep a talented staff and make my existing investors happy. That way, I succeed; I am driven by success at work. (I am driven by other things at home, but this is not some lifestyle magazine that you are reading.)
Over the next week I am going to flesh out these tenets, hopefully one day at a time, market permitting, because they are the keys to understanding this market.
Even as I write this I feel defensive about admitting these canons. It would be so much better to pretend that we really are in a business of evaluating businesses both short- and long-term.
But I know that is not true. I know it isn't because for 20 years I would hear from individuals and institutions that the two greatest practitioners of evaluating businesses in the stock-picking game were
I am a realist about my skills. Those guys are the
of the business. They are Hall-of-Famers. Even if you are a good .300 hitter you are in awe of Ted Williams. Everybody who plays pro basketball today is not as good as Michael Jordan. (Don't sweat the program. Does it bother you that nobody has ever written as well as
? That nobody has ever composed as well as
, and the purists won't allow Beethoven in the same sentence?)
But somewhere along the line Robertson got blown out of the shop. And Buffett's methods have generated sub-par results for just long enough that, if he were doing what I am doing, he would have to close. Yes, close.
When we look back at this era, we are going to be sorely tested to understand why that is, and why someone like me, who cares passionately about picking stocks, got caught up in the need to be successful rather than pure.
It's funny, for so long I was in a business that seemed to defy commercialism. In journalism we long ago accepted that the craft was, in the end, simple commerce. If you wrote well, wrote beautifully, about what people didn't want to read, it didn't sell and you couldn't make a living from it.
It's only right now that commercialism has overtaken the stock-picking business. If you pick stocks beautifully, but the people won't buy them, you can't make a living of it.
Given the crazy market, understand if I don't get to these five tenets right in a row. But I have to hammer them home so you understand why some things work and why others don't.
And so you can understand why I am considered to be excommunicated from the professional stock-picking flock for these commercial beliefs.
James J. Cramer is manager of a hedge fund and co-founder of TheStreet.com. At time of publication, his fund was long Cisco, Intel and Microsoft. 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