How should investors play the takeover game in 1989? Very carefully, analysts say.
The lure of large profits in a short time from stocks that become the target of takeovers or buyouts, a prime force in the market during 1988, persists as the new year begins.Many a brokerage house or money management firm has published a yearend list naming its choices of likely candidates to become takeover targets in the months ahead.
But some analysts question how much longer the takeover mania will continue, given increased scrutiny from Congress and a change of administrations at the White House.
Observers say changing economic and financial conditions could also act as a damper on takeovers. A continued rise in interest rates, for example, would make the debt used to finance an acquisition or buyout more burdensome.
Last year, said Rao Chalasani at Prescott, Ball & Turben Inc., "the stock market, in its preoccupation with takeovers, did not pay as much attention to industry groups or company-specific fundamentals as it normally does."
"It is our contention that takeover activity will slow in 1989 and fundamentals will be emphasized once again in making investment decisions."
Even those who expect the action to stay hot warn that the rules could well change, shifting the emphasis to new industries.
They caution that buying a stock strictly on the hope of a takeover is a high-risk proposition suitable only for money you can afford to lose.
Today's prices of many stocks, they say, already include a "premium" reflecting the chance that they might attract bidders. If something happens to diminish the chances of a takeover, these premiums have a way of disappearing very quickly.
In a special study, the research department at Prudential-Bache Securities concluded that the focus of takeover activity could shift.
"Our analysts think takeover action will pick up in some industries where takeovers were rare - natural gas, capital equipment and mainframe and minicomputers, for instance," the firm reported.
"On the other hand, industries that provided lots of takeover action in the past - beverages and tobacco, cosmetics and household products, and drugs - could become less attractive."
Richard Howe, manager of the Freedom Equity Value Fund in Boston, contends that prospective candidates for takeovers or restructurings this year include such big names as Chrysler Corp., Loews Corp., Unisys and Lockheed.
Should something happen to curtail takeover and buyout activity, the stock market as a whole might be in for a jolt.
After all, that would stand to remove what has been an important source of demand for stocks in recent years, and stop the steady shrinkage in the supply of stock that has resulted from takeovers and buyouts.
It would have other potential side effects as well. "Threats to leveraged buyouts could hurt money-center and large regional banks," observed George Salem, Prudential-Bache's banking industry analyst.
"Banks benefited from significant fee income related to LBOs between 1987 and 1988, and any threat to LBO activity - whether from government or other sources - would be materially harmful to money-center and some large regional banks."