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"The message of today is simple: old-time safety can be illusory," Cramer said as stocks fell on weak retail data. "The consumer packaged goods companies are a lot more economically sensitive than [some] of these terrific, enterprise-oriented technology plays. That's the new normal."
The "first shocker" for the "Mad Money" host came when Coca-Cola, a staple of the historically "safe" consumer goods cohort, issued a bleak forecast for 2019. CEO James Quincey attributed the guidance cut to macroeconomic pressures, which don't usually affect the beverage giant. Shares of the company had their worst trading day since 2008.
At the same time, Cisco Systems — which investors have long seen as a company hostage to the macroeconomic environment because companies can put off purchasing its multi-million-dollar products when business slows — issued a strong earnings report, raising its forecast, upping its dividend and bolstering its share buyback plans.
To Cramer, this meant that "digital technology has become so essential," he said. "Companies can fail if they don't stay current with the best network possible. Cisco has ... become a necessity to corporations worldwide. On the other hand, Coca-Cola's sugar water [is] discretionary — there's no reason you can't do without it anymore when times get tough."
That could beget a fundamental change in Wall Street's strategy. With Cisco seeing steady demand for its products and Coca-Cola worrying about how a host of high-level forces like currency and interest rates will affect its sales, Cramer wondered if stocks like Cisco might soon fall under the "safety" label while the Cokes of the world get set aside.
"In some cases, the consumer packaged goods companies may have raised their prices too high, and savvy consumers ... [have] learned to live without [them]," Cramer said, citing recent weakness at industry peers like Conagra Brands and Kellogg. "We thought these pantry plays were essential, but it turns out their products are replaceable."
Companies like Cisco, on the other hand, are becoming increasingly essential as the world connects to the cloud, he said. And scale like Cisco's, which helps companies establish secure networks for their employees across various countries, can get you far.
"Put it all together and it's pretty clear that we're paying too much for the consumer product stocks if they've truly become economically sensitive," Cramer said. "But companies with complex hardware and software solutions that empower the modern corporation? Maybe we need to pay a premium for their stocks. [...] They're scarce. They're vital."