CBS-CNET: The Fallacy Of Ownership At Work?

This story was written by Rafat Ali.
James Surowiecki, the influential financial journalist for the New Yorker, has done a simplistic yet interesting deconstruction of the corporate M&A mania, using the CBS-CNET (NSDQ: CNET) deal as an example. He cites data saying that most of acquisitions don't work, and much of the "bigger, bolder, and better" synergies can be achieved by just a simple partnership deal, and in CBS's (NYSE: CBS) case, it would have had many of the benefits of merging without the costs. He calls this merger imperative as the fallacy of ownership.

He further goes on to state that while some smaller, private company acquisitions do work, taking over a public company is even more risky, considering the premium another company has to pay for shareholders to buy into it. "The overlap between the two companies is limited, and so are the opportunities for cost-cutting," and with the 45 percent premium, "for the deal to work, it will need to improve CNET's performance not by a little but by a lot."

For CBS, the deal was to signify that the company was doing something to fight the perception that its business is slowly fading away. But the story says, the best option is to say no. "In effect, deals like the CNET acquisition are a bit like an aging outfielder taking steroids in order to stave off the boobirds. The difference is that steroids usually work." Ouch...

By Rafat Ali