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How to start a merger rumor

Merger rumors--they are fun to start, but not as easy as you might think. To do it successfully, you need to sound like a strategist and think like a stoner.

Google shouldn't buy Apple. Google should buy Venus.

The second planet from the sun remains an untapped market for search, and the overall opportunity for desktop applications has yet to be taken over by Microsoft, giving the search giant the chance to establish a working lab for its plans to move into online applications.

Plus, if science fiction films are to be believed, people from other planets often dress in flowing robes and have nightclub haircuts, which would fit in nicely with the hipster motif down in Mountain View, Calif.

It's either that, or they should develop a mini-sub to travel with Raquel Welch through the digestive tract of the president, a la Fantastic Voyage. Keeping billionaires occupied is no easy task.

Merger rumors--without them, I'd probably be out of a job. Not a week passes without some publication or analyst firm floating rumors that company X is about to invest in, or take over, company Y. Sometimes it isn't even a rumor: often, the reporter or analyst just sketches out why the two companies should get together.

Ironically, the fevered speculation rarely does any good. Reporters, and often those inside the companies, almost never accurately predict these things far in advance. Who saw the $850 million purchase of Bebo coming in the distance? Time Warner-AOL took everyone by surprise.

Hewlett-Packard buying Compaq also came as a surprise. "It is hard to find a successful example of one PC company buying another," said Webb McKinney, vice president of HP's personal computing group. He said that in April 2002, five months before the still-debated merger.

Meanwhile, the stadium is littered with predictions--IBM will buy Advanced Micro Devices; Microsoft will buy SAP; Dell will buy EMC--that come to naught.

You also might say it's pointless to listen to a beat reporter pulling in $71,500 a year on financial issues. But with the Bear Stearns meltdown, their opinion is just as good. Besides, since speculation won't stop, here's a guide to how to start successful rumors:

Go with big brand names
"Grand Auto to buy Kragen in hostile takeover." "Macrovision eyes Metabeam." "Is Cypress Semiconductor ready to make a play at Flatwire to get into WPAN market?" Those headlines don't really jump off the page, do they?

The public only cares about a few names--Microsoft, Apple, Google, Yahoo, Dell, Sony, Time Warner--so stick to those. It doesn't even matter if a company is well-known. You could start a rumor tomorrow that Acer, which is bigger and more successful than Apple in the PC market, planned to buy Trinidad, and it would barely raise a ripple.

Keep the reasons to a 3x5 card
Don't think too deep. Pitching a merger is like pitching a film. If you think about it, the plot of No Country for Old Men is like Witness without the Amish, and look where it got the Cohen brothers.

Microsoft will go after because it gives it insurance against the Yahoo deal. Social networking is big, and other people have money, so Facebook will be bought.

To do it successfully, you need to sound like a strategist and think like a stoner.

Never underestimate the power of shallow thinking. Acquicor went public in 2006 on the strength of a simple-as-dirt idea. The company was going to succeed because it would be run by Gil Amelio, Ellen Hancock, and Steve Wozniak, three Apple alum. Ignore for a moment that Amelio and Hancock oversaw Apple during its major decline and Wozniak has spent a good part of the last 30 years teaching at a junior high. Forming a merger company based on Apple talent raised $160 million. Afterward, it narrowed down its focus to the chip industry. Since then, the $6 stock has gone down to 70 cents, it's changed its name to Jazz Semiconductor, and it's looking at strategic options.

Find the hidden connections
This is perhaps the most crucial element in starting a good rumor. One computer company buying another is boring--too obvious. A merger rumor should try to push the acquirer into a new market, or uncover some hidden trait of the acquiree, that will subsequently flower. To do it successfully, you need to sound like a strategist and think like a stoner.

Thus, isn't a social network. It's the future of TV. Wikipedia will morph from a nonprofit collaborative information site to a start-up incubator based around novel, open-source IP. Intel needs its own TVs to sell Canmore, so expect it to purchase, or invest in, Pioneer. Solar companies don't make products as much as they deliver services, so expect to see try to replicate its software-as-a-service plan here.

And don't forget: Google consumes an inordinate amount of electricity per year. If they can't tap that on Venus, then they should buy some undersea thermal vents.