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As stocks reversed course on Monday and erased their early-day gains, CNBC's Jim Cramer set out to find what's working in a market that changes its mind on a dime.
"It's a motley crew for certain," the "Mad Money" host said, pointing to "the utilities, the real estate investment trusts, ... the oil and oil service stocks, a smattering of domestic companies with no Chinese inputs, some takeovers and the companies that can deliver finely honed upside surprises, like McDonald's this morning ... or Visa last week. "
But looking at Monday's intraday trading — from the decline in telecommunications stocks to the broad-based selling in the technology sector — it became clear to Cramer that those pockets of strength weren't enough to sustain a rally.
"But, and this might be a mighty big but, these leaders are enough to keep us from plummeting," he said. "[That's] something we need to take into consideration, especially at a time when so many commentators are eager to give up [on and] bury this market."
Though many investors believed the merger would be doomed because of its anti-competitive nature, Cramer wasn't so sure, emphasizing T-Mobile CEO John Legere's track record.
But Cramer noted several other deals making a positive impact on their sectors. He liked Marathon Petroleum's $23 billion acquisition of Andeavor; Marriott Vacations Worldwide's $4.7 billion deal to buy ILG; and Prologis' $8.4 billion merger with DCT Industrial.
"Now, these three sectors — refining, timeshares, real estate investment trusts — they don't provide leadership," Cramer admitted. "However, they do create instant rewards for their shareholders, and that's not nothing. These deals all take out competitors, too, so if they get approved, the resulting entities will have more pricing power."
The Prologis-DCT combination also boosted utility and REIT stocks, many of which have very high yields. To Cramer, that meant investors' worries about the 10-year Treasury yield reaching 3 percent could be fading.
Finally, the "Mad Money" host lamented the shortage of upside surprises like McDonald's and Visa delivered with their earnings reports. Business may be amazing at both companies, but their results weren't enough for a sustained advance, he said.
In a confusing market layout like this one, Cramer encouraged investors to stick with the sectors they know are strong.
"First, we have to bet that the good sectors can't stay down for long and the leaders will regain their losses," he said. "How can you not want to own the stocks of Microsoft or Intel after those amazing quarters? And yes, I know the charts are band. Second, if the banks get a big boost from M&A — and remember, the profit in that group is amazing — they are too cheap to ignore. "
As for the industrials, Cramer advised caution on the basis of U.S.-China trade tensions. If the trade war escalates, he predicted China would win; but if the United States is able to negotiate a better deal, then industrial stocks would surely rally, the "Mad Money" host said.
"We understand that it's hard to sustain an advance," Cramer concluded. "But when you see something like this at the end of four months of trading, you have to ask yourself, 'Hey, listen, if it's so darned bad, how does this market keep hanging in there?'"
"The answer's simple: because as much as the sellers seem to want it to go down, it won't comply," he continued. "There's always something working. There's always a bull market in this tape; you just need to know where to look."