Do you still own this piece of garbage? I do.
And stick with me -- I'll tell you why. Plus, I'll ask a question, make a confession, and explain why I've been buying stocks. But before I do, you must read this from a stock jock I like and respect.
Why I like Jim Cramer
"It is hard to imagine anything but more downside for these stocks and therefore more downside for the rest of the market." -- Jim Cramer, July 15, 2008
When I say I like Jim Cramer, it's no backhanded compliment. I've been reading him for 10 years. I count him -- along with my pals Bill Mann and Tom Gardner -- among the best and most passionate stock guys around.
I wrote a regular column for Cramer's website some years back. One day, he shot me an email saying simply, "nice analysis," and it made my day. (Though he won't remember any of that.) Point being, when Cramer talks, I listen.
Where are all the contrarians?
That's the question I promised at the outset. So, where are all the contrarians? How can it be that before July 15, 2008, it seemed that not one person in the financial media saw value in Wachovia (NYSE: WB ) , which was priced at just one-third of its book value?
And even if it does go belly up, why was nobody sniffing around the Financial Select Sector SPDR (XLF), which also gets you a piece of Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS ) , US Bancorp (NYSE: USB ) , and Bank of New York (NYSE: BK ) ? Is every one of these institutions going out of business, too?
And I'm not talking about buying these stocks "for a technical rally" because they are "short-term oversold" -- whatever that means. I'm talking about being contrarian -- buying when there's blood in the streets -- the only truly proven investment strategy I know.
Now, my confession
I bought stocks on July 14. The market was down more than 2% by 10 a.m., and you could cut the doom and gloom with a knife.
I wanted to buy more Bank of America -- which, as you may have guessed, is my own personal "garbage" (even though I still believe in the beleaguered bank) -- or at least the financial services ETF, but I didn't.
Know why? Because I was freaked by what folks were saying on CNBC and in The Wall Street Journal. I couldn't find one person who shared my view that the mere fact that nobody could see a reason for the financials to recover was the buy signal I was looking for.
Jim Cramer was the last straw. So, I chickened out and bought the S&P 500-tracking SPDRs (SPY). But I should have bought the banks: You don't bottom-fish when some idiot on TV says "it's hard to imagine anything but downside for the market." You buy when a smart guy like Jim Cramer says it.
You don't have to be a cowboy
I'm not suggesting you run off like a colleague of mine (let's call him "Randal Tycoon"), who on July 14 went ultra-long the financials and ultra-short energy (though I admire his moxie and wish I had his money). This is not about short-term trading.
But if, like me, you like the idea of loading up on proven cash generators like American Eagle (NYSE: AEO ) or even General Electric (NYSE: GE ) , or any of two dozen other market leaders trading at bargain-basement prices, you want to do it when some clown is shouting "There's a 10% chance we'll have a Depression!"
Depression? Holy smokes! Kooks aside, this is the ugliest mood I've seen on Wall Street in 20 years of following the markets -- and that includes 2001, when at least a handful of Pollyannas were hopeful. Does this mean we've hit bottom, and it's smooth sailing from here? No. But it tells me that now is the time to buy stocks.
What to do now ...
Last time things got anywhere near this ugly was the spring of 2002. That also happened to be the year I started working with David and Tom Gardner on their Motley Fool Stock Advisor newsletter. The first few months were a bit rocky.
But six years later, 23 of their first 24 stock recommendations have made their subscribers money. Eight have tripled in value, Amazon (Nasdaq: AMZN ) is a five bagger, and two others are up more than 800%. Did David and Tom call the precise bottom? No, but at this point, do you think anyone cares?
That, my friend, is how the market works. Over the long term, the stocks of America's best companies go up. And the very best time to buy them is when the smartest investors on Wall Street can't find a reason why stocks can go up. Thanks, Jim.
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This article was first published on July 17, 2008. It has been updated.
Paul Elliott owns shares of Bank of America. You can see the entire Stock Advisor portfolio with your free trial. Bank of America is a Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation. American Eagle and Amazon are Stock Advisor recommendations. The Motley Fool owns shares of American Eagle and has a disclosure policy.