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Cramer: In an economic expansion, these 'safety' stocks become dangerous

  • "Mad Money" host Jim Cramer explained why, when the global economy is growing, typically risky stocks become safe and typically safe stocks become dangerous.
  • Railroad and manufacturing stocks have been strong while consumer goods and drug stocks have gone lower after earnings, Cramer noted.
  • Cramer added that he hasn't seen economic activity like this since the 1990s.

Times of economic difficulty tend to bring up talk of "safety stocks," but in times of economic prosperity, CNBC's Jim Cramer sees that narrative flip.

"What if the definition of safety is changing right before our eyes? What happens when what's prudent suddenly becomes what's reckless and what used to be reckless becomes responsible?" the "Mad Money" host asked. "That, gentle viewer, is exactly what we are seeing in this market."

With strong economic activity in the BRICs — Brazil, Russia, India and Chinahealthy U.S. markets and a recovering euro zone, Cramer said the investing standards are changing.

"Right now, it feels like we're at the beginning of the first truly worldwide economic expansion since the 1990s," he said.

In this kind of "synchronized economic expansion," stocks that are typically considered safe can actually lose investors a lot of money, Cramer said.

Conversely, stocks that may be seen as risky in other times could gain serious traction.

The Winners

One such stock is Union Pacific. The railroad operator reported a strong quarter on Thursday that showed decreasing costs, high demand and barely any damage from Hurricane Harvey despite the company's sizable presence in Texas.

Norfolk Southern also issued a better-than-expected report. Both companies' stocks saw healthy gains in response.

"What's driving this strength? Simple: For the first time in many years, the rails have more business than they can handle," Cramer explained.

Cramer was also amazed by Caterpillar and 3M's respective earnings reports. The manufacturing giants delivered growth around the world in what Cramer called their best quarters in years, if not decades.

Chemical colossus DowDuPont pre-announced strong results as well, which caused the "Mad Money" host to go digging for answers.

"Did they fire a lot of people? Was there a big currency gain? No. Consumer demand. In other words, business is booming," he said.

The Losers

The sun may be shining on the industrials and manufacturers, but not without cost.

Shares of Celgene, a biotechnology player that develops treatments for cancer and inflammatory afflictions, endured their largest percentage drop in 17 years on Thursday morning after the company reported earnings.

The proximate causes of the downfall seemed to be slashed guidance for 2020 and weakness in Celgene's psoriatic arthritis drug. "One drug, one line item, and it's pure carnage," Cramer said.

Bristol-Myers Squibb's stock also shed almost 5 percent on Thursday after the pharmaceutical player announced the results for some of its key cancer drugs. Cramer said the results were "pretty good," hardly enough to warrant such a drop despite some obstacles the company noted.

And while Hershey's earnings report seemed semi-sweet to Cramer, the chocolate maker's shares dipped on a lower gross margin and presumed competition in the supermarket space.

The Lesson

Cramer pointed out that, until recently, investors had been taught that worldwide growth was an outdated requirement for companies. They assumed stocks that did well no matter what were safer. But now, the lay of the land has reversed.

"In this scenario, you need to recognize that risk, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder and right now, what's risky is what used to let you sleep at night: the foods, the drugs, the health cares," Cramer said. "And what's rewarding? The cyclical companies with managers who pruned and cut and tucked and nipped their way through the wilderness, and they finally, at long last, reached the promised land. And they're making fortunes for everyone who stuck with them."

WATCH: Cramer ticks down the market's new safety stocks

Disclosure: Cramer's charitable trust owns shares of DowDuPont.

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