Things change. So I change. Most people don't get this dynamic at all.
It is why they often find it hard to make money in the stock market. Take
. Here is a company that I thought would have to file bankruptcy protection if it lost this Flordia litigation. A mass tort class action against a company is pretty much a death sentence for that company in this country. If you don't believe me, why don't you hit up the symbols for all of those great companies that sold asbestos? Why don't you hit up the symbol for
, the drug company that manufactured a birth control device that landed it in the crosshairs of this mass tort bar? Why don't you check out the bankruptcy of
over silicon breast implants?
Once these jackals have sunk their teeth into a company, the company pretty much ceases to be a company and becomes a vast repository for funds that end up with lawyers. (Some goes to the clients, but it is a pittance compared to, per capita, what goes to the lawyers.)
But I changed my mind about Morris because Morris changed the minds of the Florida legislature. When I first got out of school I ventured to Tallahassee, where I was a reporter. I covered everything from the tragedies of
to the Tangerine Bowl victory against
by the then-resurgent Seminoles under new Coach Bobby Bowden.
But mostly I covered the legislature of the great state of Florida. I know it has a very abbreviated session because the people of Florida know that legislators cause more mischief than they do progress. When I saw there was a bill going through that legislature like a juggernaut, a bill to protect the tobacco companies, I knew that the game had changed. When a state legislature goes to that length to protect a company that is NOT one of its own, despite those tobacco fields in the Panhandle, let me tell you, something has changed.
What's changed is that the attorneys general of the various states are worried. They have made huge settlements with the tobacco companies over health benefits. These were hard-won victories meant to put the threat of bankruptcy behind the companies in return for billions of health care dollars. But these deals backfired because the people keep suing them anyway. Now this Florida legislation shows me that the political case has now swung in favor of tobacco. Yes, hated, horrible tobacco. It's actually a decent business, whether we like it or not, and until it is outlawed, it will sell.
The speed with which Philip Morris et. al. got this legislation through tells me that these companies will not allowed to be bankrupted over any individual case. They will have to be allowed to function unimpaired so they can make good on their promises. That means we may be back to where we were when these big deals were crafted that put the stock in the mid-40s. That, plus a potential slowdown in the economy orchestrated by the
, puts me back into this stock.
Do I like being in this stock? No. But I am running a business. I make money for people. What they do with it is their choice. I could run a fund that never invested in anything "bad," but believe me I would spend all of my time pouring through the
and union files and I would never get my job done.
If I catch my kids smoking, I will have a hard time restraining myself from leaving a five-finger imprint on them somewhere. But that's my job as a parent. My job as a fund manager is to do well for my investors. Right now owning Morris is a way to do that. So I am doing it. Whether I like them or not.
this morning. He
draws a conclusion that no else has: Was
done in by bad stock-picking?
James J. Cramer is manager of a hedge fund and co-founder of TheStreet.com. At time of publication, his fund was long Philip Morris. 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