CNBC's Jim Cramer on Thursday laid out a long-term investment case in a seesaw trading environment.
The "Mad Money" host channeled legendary investor Warren Buffett in making his argument that it's tough to time a bottom but that the stock market would eventually continue its upward trajectory after weeks of coronavirus turbulence.
"Buffett always says that you should be fearful when others are greedy and be greedy when others are fearful," Cramer said, citing the Oracle of Omaha's famous "Buy America, I Am" New York Times opinion piece published in the throes of the Great Recession.
"I'm going with Warren Buffett. He was dead right in 2008, even if his timing — well, let's just say he was ill-advised — maybe left a little bit to be desired. I think he's going to turn out to be right this time, too," Cramer said. "Just, please, if you're going to buy, buy gradually on the way down."
The comments come amid another roller-coaster week of stock trading. The major market averages all slid more than 3% during Thursday's session as investors grapple with the economic impact of the fast-spreading COVID-19, which originated in China and now has touched all but one continent. In the United States, California has 53 confirmed cases and declared a state of emergency. The number of cases in New York state has reached 22.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average, down 11% from its highs almost one month ago, remains in correction territory along with the S&P 500 and Nasdaq Composite. Wall Street participants are worried about how the COVID-19 outbreak could affect the global economy and future profits.
Travel and leisure stocks are off limits as the epidemic plays its course, Cramer said. However, investors should not bet against the odds that a treatment will be developed to quell the disease, he said.
"I recognize the fragility of this moment. For those who pick stocks, this is a time to own ... gold, some good staples, mainly food, definitely drugs and utilities like American Electric Power," Cramer said.
Cash remains king. It's a tough endeavor to guess a bottom — the Dow plunged 25% after Buffett's October 2008 op-ed — so Cramer recommends buying "on the way down," or investing money in parts, as stocks dip in the short term, for a long-term play. Investors will have to stomach any near-term gyrations in the market for delayed gratification.
"If you want to sell some stock in the next bounce, and there will be a next bounce like we had [Wednesday], you have my blessing," Cramer said. "Buffett was early last time, he's probably early this time," he said, referencing that Buffett's long-term outlook remains intact, despite fears about the coronavirus.
The 30-stock index is up 305%, according to FactSet, almost a dozen years after Buffett's opinion piece was published.
"While I don't actually think that we're all that close [to a bottom] if things keep getting bad, I also don't want to wait too long to put that cash to work," the host said.