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Investment

Cramer pushes back against 'peak earnings' theory with 4 cheap stocks

With the Dow Jones industrial average surging through the 23,000 level for the first time ever, CNBC’s Jim Cramer offered investors a piece of contrarian food for thought.

“Here’s something you never hear from anyone: Maybe stocks are cheaper than we think,” the “Mad Money” host said. “When we see gigantic Dow Jones components jumping like small capitalization stocks, which helped the venerable index trade through 23,000 at one point today … we do know that something real is afoot.”

Cramer started with the “household names.” Johnson & Johnson issued a strong earnings report before the opening bell on Tuesday, with pharmaceutical sales up 15 percent.

“That’s some amazing, turbo-charged growth,” Cramer said. “Yet when you look at Johnson & Johnson’s price-to-earnings multiple, which is how we compare companies on an apples-to-apples basis … this stock sells for just 18 times next year’s earnings estimates.”

The “Mad Money” host found this valuation downright nonsensical when compared with Colgate-Palmolive’s much higher valuation of 26 times earnings.

Colgate hasn’t invented much to justify its pricey multiple, while Johnson & Johnson is growing with “the single best balance sheet of any major American enterprise” behind it, Cramer argued.

Cramer added that shares of competitor Clorox, while more innovative, sells at 24 times earnings, and Procter & Gamble’s stock trades at 22 times earnings.

“You could argue that all of these stocks deserve to go dramatically lower … but I just think they’re expensive and JNJ is ridiculously cheap,” he concluded.

Health insurance giant UnitedHealth also reported earnings on Tuesday, boasting 21 percent revenue growth. But until this report, the stock only sold at 19 times earnings, Cramer said.

Only in small- or medium-sized companies does Cramer usually see that kind of explosive growth, he said.

“Now, you could say that the earnings from operations only increased by 13 percent, but still, 19 times earnings for 13 percent growth? That’s a steal, which is why the stock rallied $10 bucks today and closed at $206, [an] all-time high,” the “Mad Money” host said.

In Cramer’s eyes, Morgan Stanley is one of the world’s best investment firms with steady growth from its wealth management business, yet it sells at only 14 times earnings.

“Its valuation makes no sense to me. Same goes for JPMorgan, which is also selling at 14 times earnings with the best growth I can recall, the lowest non-performing loans I can remember, and a new rate cycle ahead that could raise earnings by billions of dollars — and the company doesn’t need to add a soul to its workforce to get that return,” Cramer said. “I’m telling you, as someone who watches earnings and knows how much people pay for them, historically, these valuations are not just cheap. They’re ridiculous.”

Cramer often finds that the technology analysts that follow Apple make criticizing the company a habit, if not a profession.

“I often want to ask them, ‘Hey, do you use Samsung?’ I mean, really,” he quipped.

While Apple may not be a technological pioneer like Spotify or Amazon or have the edge in machine learning, the cloud or social media like other tech giants, Cramer is firm in his view of Apple as the best consumer product company in the world.

“I think it could charge double for its service business and people would have to pay up because there’s nowhere else to go, it’s the only ecosystem that is seamless. Yet the darned stock sells for less than 15 times next year’s earnings estimates — its price is really being controlled by these tech analysts — and that’s without even backing out its enormous hoard of cash,” Cramer said.

All in all, the “Mad Money” host is tired of hearing how expensive stocks are. Thirty years ago this week, in 1987, the market crashed; back then, stocks traded at 29 times earnings and interest rates were at 7 percent.

But now, any pullback could be a gift for eager buyers, Cramer said.

“I hear people say, ‘But Jim, this is peak earnings.’ I say, ‘Sure, I’m worried about the pricing of some [sectors]: DRAMs, semis, disk drives, flash memory. But I don’t think we’re seeing peak numbers from a JNJ. I don’t think we’re seeing peak numbers from a UnitedHealth.’ I hear them say, ‘Wait until the Fed raises rates.’ News flash: not only have they been raising rates, but it’s actually good for the financials, which is a huge part of this economy,” Cramer said. “I hear them say, ‘Hey, it’s all a Fed bubble.’ Guess what? The Dow has now almost tripled since I started hearing that argument. They [were] cogent then, cogent now, and I bet they’ll be just as wrong this time.”

Disclosure: Cramer’s charitable trust owns shares of Apple.

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Cramer pushes back against 'peak earnings' theory with 4 cheap stocks

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