After volatile week, corporate mergers resume

A man and woman shake hands

Kai Ryssdal: Clearly Google's not just going to roll up into the fetal position and hibernate until the economy gets better. Neither are big companies like Time Warner, TransOcean and Cargill. They all announced plans today to spend billions of dollars buying other companies as well.

But one does pause for a moment, given what we've all be told is the parlous state of the economy. Isn't this a prudent time to hunker down? And, to top it off, why are companies making acquisitions anyway, instead of hiring people on their own?

Our New York bureau chief Heidi Moore reports.


Heidi Moore: If you're one of the lucky Americans who has cash sitting around in a savings account, you know that's exactly what it's doing: languishing. Like a lump. Earning you no interest whatsoever.

Corporate America has the same problem.

Robert Profusek: There are oceans of cash available to buyers.

That's Bob Profusek. He's a partner with law firm Jones Day. He says today's burst of mergers and acquisitions is more evidence that companies, from tech to oil, are planning to grow.

Profusek: I think you could argue that animal instincts have returned to the market. The stock market reacts positively to buyers who announce deals. So the actual M&A environment is extremely good.

A couple of bad weeks in the stock market won't slow these companies down. They don't just want to survive this economic malaise; they want to outrun it. So they'd rather plunk down billions to pay far above market price for an existing company, as Google did today, than spend years hiring new people and building new plants.

Hiter Harris is veteran investment banker with Harris Williams in Richmond, Va. I asked him what he's telling his clients.

Hiter Harris: If you can't build it, go buy it.

All these mergers are a vote of confidence from Corporate America, says Harris, that the doldrums aren't forever.

Harris: Oh, I think it is an optimistic and a properly optimistic bet on the future of the economy and the world.

The flip side, of course, is that these companies aren't hiring yet. When they do, the rest of us can share their optimism.

In New York, I'm Heidi Moore for Marketplace.

About the author

Heidi N. Moore is The Guardian's U.S. finance and economics editor. She was formerly the New York bureau chief and Wall Street correspondent for Marketplace.

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