Perhaps counter-intuitively, the largest number of mergers and acquisitions typically occur during bull markets, when valuations and stock prices are at cyclical highs. By contrast, during a recession, companies tend to tighten their purse strings causing mergers and acquisitions to come to a screeching halt at a time when valuations are at cyclical lows.

Companies that make major acquisitions during bear markets are often a signal that those companies have strong balance sheets, strong cash flows and a management team that is focused on long-term growth. Unfortunately, sometimes an acquisition can also be part of an attempt to add growth when the company's core business is deteriorating. Let's take a look at two big acquisitions in July. (For a primer on mergers and acquisitions, take a look at our Mergers and Acquisitions Tutorial.)

7 Forehead-Slapping Stock Blunders

Amazon and
Amazon (Nasdaq:AMZN) announced last week that the company would acquire shoe and clothing retailer for approximately $900 million. After failing to get much success with its own shoe store launched back in 2007, Amazon will finally get significant market share in the fast growing online shoe sales segment.

Year to date, Amazon is up nearly 65% and just recently released strong second-quarter results. Excluding charges for the settlement with Toys "R" Us, Amazon recorded revenues of $4.65 billion, a 14.5% gain year over year. Operating income came in at $304 million, up 24% year over year (excluding the settlement), partly due to improved gross margins of 60 basis points. Both results exceeded analyst expectations.

With a forward P/E of about 39, a trailing P/E of 55 and the stock trading at the top end of the 52-week range, I wouldn't recommend its current valuation as an entry point if you're considering adding AMZN to your portfolio.

With the volatility in today's market and the Dow trading at upper resistance levels, there's a good probability that a pullback will present a better opportunity. The closest comparison in e-commerce for Amazon is likely eBay (Nasdaq:EBAY) and it's currently trading at a forward P/E of about 13, and trailing P/E of 18.

Sprint Nextel and Virgin Mobile
Sprint Nextel (NYSE: S) announced this week that it would acquire Virgin Mobile USA (NYSE:VM) in a deal worth approximately $483 million. Sprint already owned 13% of Virgin Mobile prior to the acquisition, and its $5.50 stock exchange should allow it to acquire the remainder of mobile carrier.

Virgin Mobile USA is best known for its prepaid cell phone service, and the acquisition will add approximately 5.25 million customers to Sprint's customer base. Unfortunately, prepaid cell phone service primarily caters to value-minded customers and doesn't offer margins as good as mid to high-end subscribers.

In the second quarter of 2009, Sprint Nextel reported a net loss of $388 million, worse than many analysts had expected. The carrier also reported a loss of 257,000 customers, which was ugly considering major competitors AT&T (NYSE:T) gained 1.4 million new subscribers in Q2 and Verizon Wireless added 1.1 million new subscribers in the same quarter. It may appear as though Sprint is trying to buy customers through its acquisition with Virgin Mobile USA to make up for increased subscriber losses.

Also, it looks like AT&T and Verizon's upgrade to the high speed 4G soon with new networks such as the LTE and HSPA+ could further erode Sprint's market share if the company doesn't keep pace with these competitors. Sprint does have a partnership with Clearwire that gives it access to 4G but only in a few markets. In my opinion, investors should hold off entering into any long-term investments in Sprint Nextel until the company can show it can turn around subscriber losses.

The Bottom Line
Amazon's acquisition of expanded its market share and should fit smoothly into its long-term goals. On the other hand, instead of focusing its efforts on improving their core business, Sprint Nextel decided instead to acquire Virgin Mobile to offset its struggling business. (Learn more about what metrics to look at when analyzing the telecom industry in our article, Dial Up Choice Telecom Stocks.)

Use the Investopedia Stock Simulator to trade the stocks mentioned in this stock analysis, risk free!

Related Articles
  1. Investing

    Retirees: 7 Lessons from 2008 for the Next Crisis

    When the last big market crisis hit, many retirees ran to the sidelines. Next time, there are better ways to manage your portfolio.
  2. Economics

    Industries That Thrive On Recession

    Recessions are not equally hard on everyone. In fact, there are some industries that even flourish amid the adversity.
  3. Stock Analysis

    Analyzing Altria's Return on Equity (ROE) (MO)

    Learn about Altria Group's return on equity (ROE) and analyze net profit margin, asset turnover and financial leverage to determine what is causing its high ROE.
  4. Fundamental Analysis

    Is a U.S. Industrial Recession on the Horizon in 2016?

    Find out why the industrial economy may be teetering on an industrial recession and what could prevent it from going over the cliff.
  5. Investing News

    Icahn's Bet on Cheniere Energy: Should You Follow?

    Investing legend Carl Icahn continues to lose money on Cheniere Energy, but he's increasing his stake. Should you follow his lead?
  6. Stock Analysis

    Analyzing Google's Return on Equity (ROE) (GOOGL)

    Learn about Alphabet's return on equity. How has its ROE changed over time, how does it compare to its peers and what factors are driving ROE for the company?
  7. Investing News

    Is Buffett's Bet on Oil Right for You? (XOM, PSX)

    Oil stocks are getting trounced, but Warren Buffett still likes one of them. Should you follow the leader?
  8. Fundamental Analysis

    Gloom and Doom for Global Markets in 2016?

    Learn about the volatility in global markets during the beginning of 2016. See why famous investors are saying some economies could see recessions.
  9. Investing News

    Chipotle Served with Criminal Probe

    Chipotle's beat muted expectations and got a clear bill from the CDC, but it now appears that an investigation into its E.coli breakout has expanded.
  10. Stock Analysis

    Analyzing Sprint Corp's Return on Equity (ROE) (S)

    Learn about Sprint's return on equity. Find out why its ROE is negative and how asset turnover and financial leverage impact ROE relative to Sprint's peers.
  1. Which mutual funds made money in 2008?

    Out of the 2,800 mutual funds that Morningstar, Inc., the leading provider of independent investment research in North America, ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. Do interest rates increase during a recession?

    Interest rates rarely increase during a recession. Actually, the opposite tends to happen; as the economy contracts, interest ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. What are the risks of annuities in a recession?

    Annuities come in several forms, the two most common being fixed annuities and variable annuities. During a recession, variable ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. How do dividends affect retained earnings?

    When a company issues a cash dividend to its shareholders, the retained earnings listed on the balance sheet are reduced ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. What is the difference between called-up share capital and paid-up share capital?

    The difference between called-up share capital and paid-up share capital is investors have already paid in full for paid-up ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. Why would a corporation issue convertible bonds?

    A convertible bond represents a hybrid security that has bond and equity features; this type of bond allows the conversion ... Read Full Answer >>
Trading Center