Mad Money

Cramer: Use the sell-off to start 'nibbling' at stocks of high-quality companies like Citigroup

Key Points
  • CNBC's Jim Cramer recommends four stocks for investors to start buying as the market's October volatility continues.
  • Shares of United Continental, Citigroup, UnitedHealth Group and PepsiCo are all ripe for the picking, he says.
Use sell-off to 'nibble' at stocks of high-quality companies

Sell-offs that occur during earnings season often provide great opportunities for investors to build positions in top-notch stocks, CNBC's Jim Cramer argued Thursday as the market compounded its monthly losses.

"In a sell-off during earnings season, you can't have a lot of guesswork. You want to be sure you're buying companies that you absolutely know are doing well," the "Mad Money" host said. "That's what's so great about sell-offs in the reporting period: you've got the perfect shopping list because the companies have just told you exactly how they're doing."

And while the sell-off might not be over yet, as Cramer's colleague and technician Mark Sebastian predicted on Tuesday, Cramer spotted some stellar buying opportunities in the widespread weakness.

"I think these are levels, if you have a lot of cash, where you can pick a stock and start nibbling," he said. "You want a high-quality situation at a discount, where you know the merchandise isn't damaged, just the stock."

Right now, four stocks fit the bill, Cramer said: United Continental, Citigroup, UnitedHealth Group and PepsiCo.

United Continental reported very strong third-quarter results on Wednesday, with higher travel demand offsetting higher fuel costs. The United Airlines parent posted profit growth of nearly 30 percent for the quarter and raised its full-year outlook.

Calling the beat-and-raise report a "remarkable feat," Cramer noted that shares of the airline giant were falling on Wednesday "even as oil, [the] principal cost for the airlines, has sold off hard and it seems to have difficulty stabilizing here."

"United Continental's cheap. It's doing amazingly well, unless something's changed since earlier in the week," he continued. "Trust me, it didn't."

Citigroup delivered what the "Mad Money" host saw as "the best of the bank quarters that we've seen" last Friday, beating Wall Street's earnings expectations as the business began to reflect cost cuts from changes within the company and lower corporate taxes.

"If you're worried about the Fed being too aggressive here, please recall that about half of Citi's book of business is from overseas," Cramer said.

"If you're selling this stock, the odds are you're selling some of your shares to the company itself, as Citi's got a colossal buyback," he added. "The company's trying to repurchase about 7 percent of its shares outstanding each year. I think it's a mistake to make it easy for them."

UnitedHealth Group posted "a classic beat and raise, one of the most amazing ones [Cramer's] seen" on Tuesday, he said, adding that its medical loss ratio — a key barometer for health insurers — was "just extraordinary."

"I'm not used to being able to pick up the stock of a company that gave you a blockbuster set of numbers at such a discount," the "Mad Money" host said. "But UNH is part of the stock market so, yes, it is coming down, too."

Last but not least, PepsiCo's earnings report in early October, delivered on departed CEO Indra Nooyi's last day in her role, topped Wall Street's earnings estimates and showed higher consumer demand for some of its key brands.

"As usual, there were the problems ... with the transportation, with the raw costs, ... but they weren't nearly as boiler-plate bad as other companies that we've heard from since then," Cramer said. "The buyback is real, the dividend, at 3.4 percent, is strong, and the management change, with Indra Nooyi passing the baton to Ramon Laguarta, has been smooth."

So while investors might be panicking at the sea of red washing over their screens, stock-trackers or portfolios, Cramer made the case for keeping an even keel and not letting the market's volatility shake their conviction.

"Stick with companies that just reported monster good numbers and you rarely go wrong, even in this kind of incredibly negative pin action," he concluded.

WATCH: Cramer pinpoints 4 stocks ripe for the buying

Cramer: Use the sell-off to start 'nibbling' at stocks of high-quality companies like Citigroup

Disclosure: Cramer's charitable trust owns shares of Citigroup and UnitedHealth Group.

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