— If the asbestos claims and the endless losses weren’t enough, the final humiliation has been visited upon Bethlehem Steel, W.R. Grace, Crown Cork and Seal and Owens-Illinois: They have been yanked from the S&P 500.
Can we have a moment of silence for these once-great titans? Who can recall the days when Bessie would trade millions of shares a day and value guys like John Neff and growth folk like Peter Lynch would make giant bets on a $12-a-share number, only to have hopes dashed by the relining of furnace No. 12? Or how about the heyday of W.R. Grace, when break-up analysis placed the whole net worth of the company at less than the value of its Tokyo real estate, its chocolate division and its book reseller?
Dubious Attempt to Go Continental
How about when Crown Cork shuttered all of those plants in the states and went on its magnificent French buying spree in a dubious attempt to go international?
The analysts loved that one.
And Owen-Illinois — how many iterations has that poor industrial workhorse had from the time that people pried Brockway and some health care outfit out of it. Yeah, these were grand ones. My wife, the Trading Goddess, used to monopolize trading in Grace and Bessie. She was forever buying and selling 50,000 shares every time we thought the Fed was going to ease or tighten. It was by rote. Me, I was forever shorting Bessie. I have not seen a clean quarter from this company since 1988.
I used to love trading Crown Cork as one of those growth cyclicals, like Tyco or Illinois Tool Works, until I realized that the latter two were run by geniuses while the former was run by a would-be Philadelphia socialite who seemed to like being in two places every day in the paper: the society pages and the new low list.
You Will Be Missed
Owens-Illinois, like Owens Corning and Libbey Owens, which was then renamed Trinova, or some other silly Allegis-like moniker, represented this great play on declining raw costs. Have deflation and lower energy costs? Reach for the Owens Illinois, the way you would reach for a Coke on a hot summer day. All of these companies were deep value plays, the way Eagle-Picher was a value play and Armstrong Cork was a value play. Now they are just ex-members of the S&P 500. And all that will happen is that the index will trade better without them. For most, these are just asterisks. But for this soon-to-be-retired trader, these were great memories of stocks past. You will be missed!
James J. Cramer is manager of a hedge fund and co-founder of TheStreet.com. At time of publication, his fund had no positions in any stocks mentioned. His fund often buys and sells securities that are the subject of his columns, both before and after the columns are published, and the positions that his fund takes may change at any time. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks.