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Cramer reviews the third quarter's 10 unlikely winners

Key Points
  • "Mad Money" host Jim Cramer explains the gains behind the 10 top-performing stocks of Q3.
  • Wall Street may be focused on the president and the Federal Reserve, but not one of the quarter's top 10 stocks had much to do with either, Cramer says.
  • Many of the quarter's top stocks were those that investors didn't think would do well.
10 unlikely winners for the 3rd quarter

As much as investors may consider President Donald Trump and the Federal Reserve to be stock-moving entities, CNBC's Jim Cramer found that the third quarter's top stocks didn't have much to do with either.

"The truth is, it's much easier for the media to focus on Trump and the Fed than it is to focus on individual stocks," the "Mad Money " host said. "I think that's why it's so much harder to make money in the market if you only pay attention to the daily noise. It's confusing, and worse, it's not really relevant to identifying high quality stocks."

Cramer said that realistically, Fed Chair Janet Yellen's prudence has done more to not hurt stocks than to move them, and Trump's market-boosting initiatives haven't materialized yet.

So Cramer looked back at the top 10 winners of the third quarter to see what really drove their gains.

1. NRG Energy

After more than a year of serious losses and a dwindling dividend, NRG Energy's former CEO, David Crane, was ousted from the energy utility company in December 2015.

"His replacement, Mauricio Gutierrez, has done a remarkable job re-establishing the company's finances. He's gone a long way toward making NRG a utility that could one day rebuild its dividend, hence the 50 percent [quarterly] gain in the stock, " Cramer said. "I also think, by the way, it could be a takeover target given its national reach and its relatively small $8 billion market cap[italization]. I think there's something there."

2. Michael Kors

A central member of what Cramer would call the "left-for-dead cohort," the group of stocks Wall Street has given up on due to concerns that malls are falling out of style, Michael Kors was up 34 percent for the quarter that ended Friday.

The apparel and accessories retailer impressed in the third quarter with its popular smartwatch line and $1.2 billion acquisition of high-end shoemaker Jimmy Choo.

"[The acquisition] suggests that the business still has a pulse," Cramer said. "Short-sellers don't like to bet against any stocks where they can find a pulse. So, thanks to a combination of short covering and some easy [earnings] comparisons, Michael Kors is working, even if I don't trust it."

3. Gap Stores

Up 32 percent for the third quarter, bargain brand house Gap Inc. has also seen a turnaround thanks to a combination of closing under-performing stores and Wall Street warming up to its Old Navy line.

4. Albemarle

Cramer said specialty chemical company Albemarle is up 30 percent because of its unique position as a pure-play on lithium, a key component of electric car batteries.

"The stock went into high gear after Volvo announced its intention to go all-electric. I prefer FMC as a lithium play, but I recognize that there isn't much stopping Albemarle, " Cramer said.

5. Lam Research

Short-sellers targeted Lam Research's shares ahead of the third quarter because worries abounded that DRAM units, which Lam's products help build, would drop in price.

But the semiconductor equipment company's 29 percent gain in the third quarter has been all about its irreplaceable role in the internet of things, Cramer said.

6. Boeing

The top performer in the down, aerospace giant Boeing ran for 28 percent in Q3 due in part to its large order book.

"But most of it is a disbelief on the part of the analysts who cover the stock that the Dreamliner's making money, " Cramer said. "It's the only large plane model that is doing well, but so what? You know what, it's doing it."

7. CF Industries

Cramer attributed the gain in CF Industries, a fertilizer manufacturer, to one sweeping trend.

"I think this is purely a function of the fact that the agriculture cycle has come back to life. Everyone's looking for ways to capitalize on it," the "Mad Money" host said.

8. United Rentals

This equipment rental giant was Cramer's top recommendation for investors seeking to invest around the rebuilding of Texas after Hurricane Harvey.

United Rentals also acquired competitor Neff in August, a lucky strike as a large part of Neff's business is in Florida, which got hit with Hurricane Irma shortly after.

"It's better to be lucky than good, but in this case, United Rentals is both lucky and good," Cramer said.

9. Applied Materials

Semiconductor maker Applied Materials, with a 25 percent gain for the quarter, saw a similar short-selling situation as Lam Research ahead of the quarter, but Cramer highlighted the company's strong lines of business in all things display.

"Let it cool off and then buy," he advised.

10. United Technologies

United Technologies' monumental acquisition of airplane parts maker Rockwell Collins gave shareholders a 25 percent return.

Final Thoughts

"Here's the bottom line: the 10 winners all had their individual reasons to rally, although a common theme was the expectation that they wouldn't be doing well coming into the quarter, which brought short-selling, which turned out to be as wrong, as wrong as it could get," Cramer said. "I think the most important takeaway, though, is to stop focusing on Trump and Yellen. Instead, focus on the fundamentals and you'll catch some of these. Yes, you'll do much better."

WATCH: Cramer ticks down Q3 2017's winners

Cramer reviews the third quarter's 10 unlikely winners

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