"I learned this the hard way when my charitable trust decided to buy Juniper Networks (JNPR), the maker of networking and communication equipment, back in 2011," said Cramer. Juniper encountered shortfalls and blamed a lack of Japanese orders in the wake of the tsunami and Fukushimi Daiichi nuclear disaster. But the stock continued to drop. He stuck with Juniper because the company had a ton of cash.
Oops. Juniper's blame-the-customer act was a lame alibi, Cramer said. It turns out Cisco was taking market share the whole time and simply kicking Juniper's butt with a better mousetrap.
There's a pretty simple moral here: When a company blames the customer, check to see whether the customer isn't actually still buying from a different vendor.
A huge part of this business is figuring out where a given stock is headed, said Cramer. That isn't always easy. Most stocks, most of the time, trade on their earnings-per-share numbers. When the earnings are headed lower, so is the stock; when the earnings go higher, the stock rallies, too.
But for some industries, earnings are not the most important metric, said Cramer. If the only thing you're watching is the earnings per share, you could end up getting clobbered or missing some fabulous opportunities. Watch the key metrics for everything you own.
For example, Cramer said, when it comes to oil companies, production growth is key. For many tech stocks, it's the average selling price of their products. In these two sectors, those metrics are more important that anything related to beating the earnings estimates. Devon Energy (DVN) sagged due to production shortfalls, not earnings per share; Chevron (CVX) rallied with lower earnings and higher production growth.
Another mea culpa: Cramer admitted he totally missed the bottom for Micron (MU), the semiconductor company that makes memory chips, back at the end of 2012. Micron's stock had been a dog for more than a decade. But then the stock jumped higher. "What did I miss?" Cramer asked.
DRAMs, or dynamic random access memory chips, had a nice bump up in their average selling prices during the quarter. DRAM business had been so horrible for so long that many companies in the industry had simply given up, Cramer said. So supply had become constrained. Micron's been off to the races ever since, more than tripling from December 2012 to December 2013.
One last metric to note, said Cramer: when a company is based in the United States but does a lot of business in emerging markets, particularly China. One of the best buys his charitable trust ever made was picking up Yum! Brands (YUM), the parent of KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, off a sudden decline in Chinese sales because of a KFC tainted-chicken scandal, Cramer said.