While writing earlier this morning about the impending merger of
, the business media's simultaneous role was to put the proposed merger in some degree of perspective and perhaps draw wider meaning from the impending deal.
Take a step back and look at the big picture, which, in the end, is the only thing that matters to most savvy investors, who don't own either Pfizer or Wyeth. What might this mean or signal going forward for the drug industry? And what does this mean or signal for the economy at large?
The business media, as you might expect, failed you in this regard. On the first question, they basically operated as a chorus -- and one singing in an echo chamber, at that. With near unanimity, they trafficked in a suspect conclusion about what's bound to come next.
Somewhat remarkably, too, with the exception of
The New York Times
and a few others, they did not even attempt to answer the second question. Of course, it took some guts to do it. After all, it's a big deal. This merger could signal of a slight shift in mood, a thawing of the credit markets.
appropriately got to the positive implications
: "The deal would not only create a pharmaceutical behemoth but would be a rarity in the current financial tumult: a big acquisition that is not a desperate merger of two banks orchestrated by the government.
"It would also be the first big merger backed by Wall Street in months. While credit has been notoriously tight of late, five banks have agreed to lend Pfizer $22.5 billion to pay for the deal. Pfizer, which has roughly $26 billion in cash, would finance the deal through the loans, some of its cash and stock.
"If the transaction is completed as planned, it would be the biggest merger since
and BellSouth combined in a $70 billion deal in March 2006, according to the research firm Capital IQ."
This economic crisis has brought a lot of stocks down to where they belong. But it has also crushed decent companies. Valuations are low, and once the credit markets thaw in a meaningful way (and they will), we will see deals.
The Wall Street Journal
, let alone feature it prominently in its coverage.
The more prominent prediction usually falls along
these predictable lines
(which was far from alone): "A merger of Pfizer and Wyeth could trigger a wave of consolidation in the cash-rich pharmaceutical sector as drug makers look to diversify revenues in the face of competition from generic-drug rivals."
Left unaddressed here is the fact that from
on, the history of large-scale drug-company mergers has been pretty dismal. Sure, this one between Pfizer and Wyeth might break new ground, but don't you think those in the field who have been burned repeatedly by messy mergers would wait to see one actually work out before they act? And how would this automatic wave of copycat mergers work, anyway? Was
, for example, which stands fully aware of the dismal history of big mergers in the industry, anxiously waiting for Pfizer to act first so it can get the best choice and drive up prices?
Never say never, and never underestimate an industry's ability to follow competition blindly. But I think you can make a better case here for what this deal says about the future of the economy and stock market than about the drug industry alone.
At the time of publication, Fuchs had no positions in any of the stocks mentioned in this column.
Marek Fuchs was a stockbroker for Shearson Lehman Brothers and a money manager before becoming a journalist who wrote The New York Times' "County Lines" column for six years. He also did back-up beat coverage of The New York Knicks for the paper's Sports section for two seasons and covered other professional and collegiate sports. He has contributed frequently to many of the Times' other sections, including National, Metro, Escapes, Style, Real Estate, Arts & Leisure, Travel, Money & Business, Circuits and the Op-Ed Page. For his "Business Press Maven� column on how business and finance are covered by the media, Fuchs was named best business journalist critic in the nation by the Talking Biz website at The University of North Carolina School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Fuchs is a frequent speaker on the business media, in venues ranging from National Public Radio to the annual conference of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. Fuchs appreciates your feedback;
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