From tiny acquisitions to massive conglomerate combinations, Wall Street's urge to merge remains strong. How can we tell the dealmakers from the dealbreakers?

Breaking down the buildup
To help, we'll turn to the 115,000-plus investors in Motley Fool CAPS. Our data suggests that top-rated stocks offer the best oppportunity to capture the best returns. A combination of two companies with high CAPS ratings should bode well for the new firm's future results, while a high-rated company that joins a lower-rated one may benefit one set of investors more than the other.

Despite troubles in the capital markets, the deals won't stop; they simply might involve more stock and less cash. Here are a handful of recently announced deals, and the ratings for each participating company on CAPS' five-star scale:

Acquirer

CAPS Rating

Target

CAPS Rating

Deal Price

Basic Energy

*****

Azurite Services

NR

$60 million

Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC)

***

Wachovia (NYSE:WB)

**

$15 billion

Foot Locker

*

CCS division of Delia's

****

$102 million

GameStop (NYSE:GME)

****

Micromania

NR

$700 million

Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ)

****

LeftHand Networks

NR

$360 million

JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM)

***

Washington Mutual banking assets

NR

$1.9 billion

Medtronic (NYSE:MDT)

****

Cryocath

NR

$380 million

Nuance Communications (NASDAQ:NUAN)

****

Voice recognition unit Royal Philips

NR

$96 million

CAPS ratings courtesy of Motley Fool CAPS; NR = not rated.

A merger of equals?
Although Wall Street's financial meltdown continues to create buying opportunities for those with deep enough pockets -- and clean enough balance sheets -- there's plenty of excitement elsewhere to keep viewers tuning in.

Some of that excitement might just be in your living room -- or will be, as soon as you get home from GameStop with your latest video game purchase. The retailer has consistently churned out record revenue; now some of those funds will be in francs, after it finishes acquiring the 332 stores of France-based Micromania. The video game purveyor didn't have a presence in the second-largest European gaming market until now. After the purchase -- which will be immediately accretive to earnings -- it will have a worldwide footprint of nearly 5,900 stores.

While some Fools fear the advent of digital gaming downloads supplanting GameStop's retail dominance, CAPS member thecrickett thinks that distant threat won't offset the growing demands of gamers anytime soon:

The store is always full and any talk of digital downloading is way off. The card that gives you 10% used games discount and 10% premium when you turn them in is also a way to keep gamers coming in always and it is very conveniant. it will be back at 42 in no time.

Speech-recognition specialist Nuance Communications might just become a regular addition to this column, given how fast it goes around buying up anything that looks like a competitor. Over the past three years, Nuance has made 15 separate acquisitions, no doubt bedeviling analysts trying to value it. Yet the Motley Fool Hidden Gems recommendation seems to be developing a virtual monopoly on speech-recognition technology. That impresses CAPS members like bluedome, who'd otherwise scorn its consistent lack of profitability:

Management that can keep a company alive for a decade while never making a profit is either very talented or very stupid, you decide. I'm going to bet its virtual monopoly on this technology is worth the wait since it is steadily growing sales and not increasing its debt load.

A value-added offer
What's your take on these deals? Let us know on Motley Fool CAPS. While you're there, you can start your own research on these or other stocks. Read a company's financial reports, scrutinize key data and charts, and examine the comments your fellow investors have made, all from a stock's CAPS page.

On Oct. 7, 2008, Fool co-founder David Gardner and his Motley Fool Pro team will invest $1 million in a portfolio designed to help you make money in any market. In the coming weeks, the team, relying heavily on proprietary CAPS "community intelligence" data, will establish long and short positions in a broad range of securities, including common stocks, publicly traded put and call options, and exchange-traded funds (ETFs). To learn more about Motley Fool Pro and to receive a private invitation to join, simply enter your email address in the box below.

Fool contributor Rich Duprey owns shares of GameStop but does not have a financial position in any of the other stocks mentioned in this article. You can see his holdings here. Nuance Communications is a Hidden Gems recommendation. GameStop is aStock Advisor selection. JPMorgan Chase is an  Income Investor pick. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.