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Corporate takeover deals boom as money flows

April 4, 2011 |  7:34 pm

The eat-to-grow mantra is back in vogue in the corporate world.

Takeover activity is surging in the U.S. and abroad this year as cash-rich companies look to put some of that stash to work by bulking up.

On Monday computer chip giant Texas Instruments said it would buy rival National Semiconductor for $6.5 billion.

That was the biggest of a flurry of deals that included Pfizer Inc.’s agreement to sell a manufacturing unit to buyout firm KKR & Co. for $2.4 billion, and the CEO of Landry’s Restaurants Inc.’s $123-million hostile offer to buy McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood Restaurants.

Fish The latest offers continue the wave of deal activity that pushed the value of announced merger deals to $329.4 billion in the U.S. alone in the first quarter, up 62% from a year earlier and the largest dollar volume since the second quarter of 2008, according to data firm Dealogic.

Worldwide, the value of announced deals reached $811.6 billion in the first quarter, up 28% from a year earlier and the most since the third quarter of 2008.

The number of announced deals, however, was down 11% in the first quarter from a year earlier in the U.S., to 2,303 from 2,592, according to Dealogic. Worldwide the number of offers totaled 10,429 in the quarter, down less than 1% from a year earlier.

With the dollar value of takeovers way up and the number of transactions down modestly worldwide, the average deal size is rising -- which could be a sign that corporate buyers are eager to find the biggest targets they can handle.

The financial backdrop is near perfect for large-scale takeovers: Many companies are flush with cash, borrowing costs are cheap thanks to the Federal Reserve’s easy-money policies, and rising share prices mean acquirers have strong currencies if they want to do stock-swap deals.

The positive spin on booming merger activity is that it suggests rising confidence on the part of corporate executives. But it also could indicate that execs fear that economic growth in the next few years will be too slow to drive strong earnings gains.

That could give an advantage to companies that essentially buy growth by acquiring new product lines or larger market share.

The stock market loves this game, of course, because it means more chances to reap a bonanza if you can pick the next takeover target. Texas Instruments agreed to pay $25 a share for National Semi, a 78% premium to the latter's stock price on Monday.

But for workers, the question is how much of a drag the deal boom will be on job growth, which is just beginning to pick up speed in the U.S. economy. Many mergers, after all, inevitably lead to consolidation and layoffs -- even if companies say that cost-saving isn’t their primary motivation in doing a deal.

-- Tom Petruno

Image credit: Frits Ahlefeldt /