Jim Cramer on the Stock Market: What Nike Is Telling Us

NEW YORK (Real Money) -- The contrast couldn't be crazier. First, you have a stock market that has its worst day in ages, driven down by worries about the consumer, with a dive in the consumer confidence figures, angst about a rapidly declining Europe and concerns that China's slowing more than the government can handle.

Then after the close Nike (NKE) reports and it is the best Nike report ever. It's the triple play: 15% revenue growth, 27% earnings per share gains and 170 basis points of margin expansion. Stunning, just stunning.

There's terrific North American growth, amazing acceleration in Western Europe -- yes, acceleration -- and an astonishingly strong number in China. There were no sneaks on sale this quarter with those strong gross margins, and inventories were well under control.

This contrast between the macro and the micro shows how hard this market has become. Go back to 3:59 p.m. yesterday, with the S&P 500 off 1.62%. Isn't Nike the most natural short in the book?  How could you not go short it during the day, knowing the payoff that awaited you after the close?

Think about it. You knew that Nike got a boost from World Cup, but that's in the past. One time only. No extrapolation. You knew that Nike had stumbled in China as recently as last quarter, so how could Nike's business recover quickly, especially with what we know about how poorly China's now doing. Western Europe? There's $5 billion in sales at risk. Who is going to buy expensive sneakers when the economy's downshifting quickly and Russia-Ukraine tensions are rising?

Unemployment's rapidly increasing, and the bet is a recession is going to cause Nike to be conservative in guidance. Plus, the dollar's so strong you have to think there's no reason for optimism in Europe or any other venue for that matter.

And the emerging markets?  Forget about it.

Yet every single area was better than expected and the outlook was even more impressive, including currencies. 

Now, some of this strength is just because Nike's so darned good. As unbelievably under-rated CEO Mark Parker said right upfront: "It's the complete offense that encompasses brands, geographies, categories, product types and channels. When all of these components are working together, the portfolio generates amazing growth."

But still, nobody's that good and the products Nike sells are hardly necessities. And the macro forces certainly seem to be overwhelming. How can China really grow 20%, with 30% direct-to-consumer growth? How could Western Europe grow 25%?

Maybe things aren't that bad? In a cruel moment of irony, Nike admitted to two geographic weaknesses: Russia and Israel. Russia's got the world shooting against it with sanctions that are hitting home. Israel was in a hot war for the quarter.

Maybe things are more contained than we think?

In the end, these are all moot questions. The market's in an ugly mood. It's not thinking as granularly. Nike will not be regarded as a proxy, because the hedge funds are swinging their positions around and hedge funds only think macro. They didn't study the conference call last night. They partied, because they've got the Fed on the run and a president who seems to want to equate Russia with ISIL, which assures a cold winter in Western Europe and, of course, because the Giants blew out the Redskins.

Anyway, they are so smart, they will probably say "It's because Adidas is so bad, not because Nike is any good." And they will leave it at that.

Action Alerts PLUS, which Cramer co-manages as a charitable trust, has no positions in the stocks mentioned.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published at 5:48 a.m. EDT on Real Money on Sept. 26.

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