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NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- In the lull until earnings season, the markets are returning to stocks that do well when the economy does well, Jim Cramer told his Mad Money viewers Wednesday. That's despite the battle that rages over high-frequency trading.
Cramer said that investors are once again hopeful the economy is really improving, and that's why Caterpillar (CAT - Get Report) was able to surge over $100 a share. Strong auto sales also helped General Motors (GM - Get Report), a stock Cramer owns for his charitable trust, Action Alerts PLUS, end the day in the green. Cramer said if Friday's employment numbers a good, look for these gains to continue.
The markets are also still embroiled in the high-frequency trading debate, Cramer continued. He said these trades continue to meddle in the markets, preventing traders like you and me from getting the best prices possible. Cramer called high-frequency trading a tax on the markets, one investors cannot avoid, sadly.
It's unclear whether the SEC feels high-frequency traders fulfill a function or if the agency thinks the issue doesn't matter since it has been around so long. Cramer posited that perhaps the SEC feels that it's OK the markets aren't entirely fair.
No matter what the reason, however, Cramer said the only way to remove the high-frequency "tax" would be to create a new, alternative market where they simply aren't allowed. That notion has already been proposed, and is one Cramer supports.
Apple in Limbo
Shares of Apple (AAPL - Get Report), another Action Alerts PLUS holding, are in limbo, Cramer told viewers. Apple is no longer considered a growth stock by many but it also isn't quite considered a value name either.
Cramer said Apple certainly qualifies as a value stock, trading at just 12 times earnings while the market overall trades at 17.3 times earning. But even with this paltry multiple, Apple is down 3% so far in 2014 while old-line tech names like Hewlett-Packard (HPQ - Get Report) and Oracle (ORCL - Get Report) are up 18% and 8%, respectively.
How can this be? Cramer explained that both HP and Oracle offer investors the promise of a big upside surprise as the economy improves. Apple offers no such promise.
So while Apple may be superior in just about every metric that matters, from revenue to earrings to its dividend yield, until the company can jump-start growth or introduce a product that moves the needle, shares are likely to remain in limbo.
Cramer's 'Final Four'
In honor of March Madness, Cramer kicked off his own "Final Four" championship, pitting the best stocks in the S&P 500 versus the best the Nasdaq has to offer to see which company has the best chance of rallying for the rest of the year.
Nabors has been a relatively poor performer in a neighborhood that's rapidly improving, Cramer explained. The company has transformed itself from a domestic onshore driller to a global player with exposure to both on- and offshore projects. After many delays and production problems, however, Nabors is finally getting its act together and is poised to pounce on an uptick in global growth.
Tyson, on the other hand, is a terrific company in a tough neighborhood. The company is a terrific operator but is hostage to commodity pricing for animal feeds, such as corn, and meat prices. For Tyson, much of the upside comes from how well it manages gross margins.
With a real optimism emerging for increased oil and gas production and a headwind for commodity prices, Cramer crowned Nabors as the winner for the S&P bracket. Nabors will face off against his Nasdaq winner on Friday.
What's on the Menu?
In a special interview, Cramer sat down on location with restauranteur Danny Meyer at his Gramercy Tavern in New York City to see if Meyer's "hospitality index" is still making the grade since it was first introduced on "Mad Money" in February 2009.
Meyer said he doesn't believe in success. The minute you think you're doing a good job, someone else will force you to do it better. That's why, for him, hospitality and success means you as a customer leaving one of his many restaurants feeling better than when you entered.
When asked if technology is helping his restaurants succeed, Meyer admitted technology does help him be multiple places at once, but it's still no substitute for taking care of your employees, your customers, your suppliers and, finally, your community.
Meyer continued that employees should always be a business' first priority. Human capital is important and who's on your team matters.
Cramer then updated viewers on Meyer's hospitality index, which included stocks Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG - Get Report), Whole Foods Markets (WFM) and Amazon.com (AMZN - Get Report). This index rose 375% since February 2009, beating the S&P 500 and its gain of 129% over the same period.
Am I Diversified?
In the "Am I Diversified?" segment, Cramer spoke with callers and responded to tweets sent via Twitter to @JimCramer to see if investors' portfolios have what it takes for today's markets.
The first portfolio included Coca-Cola (KO - Get Report), Charles River Labs (CRL - Get Report), American Tower (AMT - Get Report), Walt Disney (DIS - Get Report) and Phillip Morris (PM - Get Report).
The second portfolio's top holdings included Kinder Morgan Energy Partners (KMP), Whiting Petroleum (WLL - Get Report), United Rentals (URI - Get Report), Susquehanna Bancshares (SUSQ) and Intel (INTC - Get Report).
To watch replays of Cramer's video segments, visit the Mad Money page on CNBC.
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-- Written by Scott Rutt in Washington, D.C.
To email Scott about this article, click here: Scott Rutt