Does your fund have hard-to-value assets like those that American Express (AXP) - Get American Express Company Report owned? Do you know whether your fund has private placements valued at the prices it paid, rather than the more realistic prices that this market will bear?
I am no fan of American Express, even writing in
today that the junk losses the company experienced are just plain embarrassing and inexplicable given how much we know about the behavior of these kinds of bonds in precisely this kind of environment.
Still, at least it 'fessed up. How many mutual fund managers have the same stinking losses on their books as American Express and have simply chosen to ignore them, rather than write them down to their true value? And how many funds participated in the late-stage investment game, buying shares in "soon-to-be-public" companies that are now struggling to avoid closing because the stock market won't let them come public?
Worse, how many are now adding to those losses by putting in more money to keep these ventures afloat -- and valuing them at absurdly higher prices than they would go for in the public markets?
Do your funds have such loopholes? Do your funds own a lot of junk or private placements? Do you even know? Look at those first-half statements you just got and see if you can tell. Believe me, many, many fund managers can't handle the sting of the losses. They would just as soon slough it off to a later date. That can work to the vigilant shareholder's advantage. You get the overstated net asset value of these funds if you pull out now. Not a bad idea.
James J. Cramer is a director and co-founder of TheStreet.com. He contributes daily market commentary for TheStreet.com's sites and serves as an adviser to the company's CEO. Outside contributing columnists for TheStreet.com and RealMoney.com, including Cramer, may, from time to time, write about stocks in which they have a position. In such cases, appropriate disclosure is made. While he cannot provide personalized investment advice or recommendations, he invites you to send comments on his column to