NEW YORK ( Stockpickr) -- As we spelled out in the first part of this two-part look at a possible surge in deal-making activity, the stars have never been more in alignment for an upturn in M&A activity. The key question for investors: How to play the trend? We noted that Lazard (LAZ), Evercore Partners (EVR) and Greenhill Partners (GHL) serve as advisors in deal-making, and typically see their shares rise smartly as M&A activity heats up. Who else should investors be focusing on?
Frankly, it doesn't pay to speculate too much on which companies will be doing the buying. These acquirers typically get little initial credit among investors and can even see their shares drop on an announcement. (That can create a solid opportunity as investors discount the eventual benefits that such deals are likely to bring.)
Why do investors react negatively? Because they fear "acquisition indigestion." Deal-making entails risk. It can cause management to lose focus as overlapping teams create a bit of friction. And even though companies initially tout the cross-selling opportunities that a deal can bring, investors prefer to take a wait-and-see stance to ensure that such synergies really take place.So it's the companies that might get acquired that should be in focus for you. Make no mistake: It's foolish to buy a stock just because you think it might get acquired. Most rumored deals never come to pass, and you may be left holding the bag when buyout hopes fade. Instead, it's wisest to focus on buyout candidates that are already attractively priced on their own merits. If a buyout doesn't happen, you can still do well, and if a buyout does happen, then you can score quick gains: A typical buyout offer is made at 20% to 40% above the current price to help grease the wheels for a company that may be reluctant to sell.