You would have to be a knave to think this level of buyout action will continue indefinitely, and The Business Press Maven is not one. In my start-of-the-year prognostication, I wrote about how this merger game would chuff along to great heights -- but we better be on the constant lookout for that point in time when it would peter or pop (Paul, apparently, was off somewhere).
Of course, there were no direct indicators then that a bad turn was coming. And without a high-profile deal imploding, markedly rising interest rates or another definable danger flag flapping in the breeze, there is still nothing tangible at present that indicates such a turn is at hand.
Here's the key: Being on the lookout for signs of the apocalypse, as The Business Press Maven is, is much different than declaring that the apocalypse is at hand -- as a
Wall Street Journal
article did in bumptious (read: undocumented) fashion Tuesday.
The End Is Near
Hear me out. The distinction between looking for a sign of the end and declaring the end is rarely one made by the business media. After getting burned by the Internet bubble in the late 1990s, they essentially spent the next seven years predicting the imminent bust of the housing bubble. The housing bubble has popped, true, but anyone who listened to conventional wisdom from the business media missed a solid seven years.
Still, The Business Press Maven read
The Wall Street Journal
article Tuesday with serious care on the off chance it was pointing to something other than the general feeling they get when they look to the West. "Private Equity: Is Deal Frenzy Nearing an End?" asked the headline, rhetorically.
Rhetoric questions, as any high school debate club veteran knows, can get you in trouble -- and I did begin to wonder how substantiated the article might be, what with stories on leveraged buyouts for
and others positioned around this end-of-an-era declaration, kicked off by a question mark.
(Note: Flip through today's papers at your leisure to read through a similar convoy of deals from
( ABN) to
( ESPD) to
music unit and more. If this is the end, it comes in the grand finale fashion of a fireworks show.)
Party of Five
Whatever the case, I read forward. That's when I got to the subheadline: "Big Firms Split in Views Over Pace of Buying." Split in views? Got that? In fact, if you get one thing from all The Business Press Maven's teachings, let it be that you should get suspicious when the business media says opinion is split. It often means, if you'll notice, that the reporter spoke to a grand total of two sources, who disagreed. More intrepid reporters, mind you, have generally spoken to four.
In other words: It is not hard to declare a split in opinion. And there is very little downside. You are covered. It's just not usually right. Plus, it's not a good sample, and it's no indication of any legitimate divide.
Let's go ahead and count how many were surveyed on whether the buyout market was about to pop in this story. Henry Kravis, Timothy Collins, the CEO of Ripplewood Holdings. Carlyle Group Co-Founder David Rubenstein, a managing partner at KPS Capital Partners, and to round it out, a founding partner from Blackstone and TPG.
That's a total of five.
It surpasses the upper end of the norm in these situations (four), but I think you get the picture. The article, however, doesn't. It legitimizes the scale of its sample, even as it argues against the more negative conclusions that are already refuted by all the buyout articles surrounding it.
: "The industry has seen this divide before." So now it's a divide. A true divide. Just like before, when, most likely, four or five other people with divergent opinions were rounded up in one story.
By the way, one of the reasons The Business Press Maven and others are on the lookout for legitimate signs of the ending of all this is the assumption that many lame stocks are being propped up by takeover hopes. Take that rug out from under them and, well, use your imagination.
A story in today's
gets at that. But when Tuesday's story declaring an end to the deal orgy ignores all the deals around it, it should, at least, when mentioning the "widespread belief" that stock prices will go down, explain why several stocks, such as
written about competently in today's Wall Street Journal) have thrived after collapsed deals.
At the time of publication, Fuchs had no positions in any of the stocks mentioned in this column.
A journalist with a background on Wall Street, Marek Fuchs has written the County Lines column for The New York Times for the past five years. He also contributes regular breaking news and feature stories to many of the paper's other sections, including Metro, National and Sports. Fuchs was the editor-in-chief of Fertilemind.net, a financial Web site twice named "Best of the Web" by Forbes Magazine. He was also a stockbroker with Shearson Lehman Brothers in Manhattan and a money manager. He is currently writing a chapter for a book coming out in early 2007 on a really embarrassing subject. He lives in a loud house with three children. Fuchs appreciates your feedback;
to send him an email.