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

Breaking down the buildup
To help, we'll turn to the 120,000-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

Akamai Technologies (NASDAQ:AKAM)

****

acerno

NR

$95 million

GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE:GSK)

*****

Biotene from Laclede

*****

$170 million

Novartis

*****

Pulmonary unit from Nektar Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:NKTR)

**

$115 million

Adrenalina

NR

Pacific Sunwear (NASDAQ:PSUN)

**

$296 million

Exelon (NYSE:EXC)

****

NRG Energy (NYSE:NRG)

*****

$6.2 billion

Syngenta

****

Goldsmith Seeds

NR

$74 million

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

While I was tempted to include all the top banks that the government forced to accept cash in return for an equity stake, we'll stick with the more conventional merger arrangements taking place in the equity markets.

A merger of equals?
Call it a head-scratcher: Media content delivery specialist Akamai Technologies will now target advertising. It's acquiring acerno and unveiling a new division to apply behavioral targeting to ad campaigns. At first blush, it looks like it's a case of "diworsification" -- a company expanding beyond its core competency. But on further examination, it might be a very smart, lucrative move.

Akamai currently provides web publishers a high-speed, high-quality means to deliver their content. Because its network distributes that data to all corners of the Internet, it has a bird's-eye view of how end users ultimately consume that content. Armed with that data, Akamai's new ad ambitions can help retailers target potential customers more effectively.

Yet that brings up potential privacy concerns. Previously ISPs were raked over the coals by Congress for using users' web habits to target ads to them. Akamai's move seems a bit like a high-wire act in that regard, though it could pay off handsomely if the company can carefully monetize its data. 

CAPS member LimoDriver1971 hints at the potential of the new direction when he notes its ability to improve our online experience:

With their improvements in their video streaming technologies, and the introduction of those technologies to [their] #1 user - Metacafe, [Akamai] is making the right moves at maybe not the right time.

But that doesn't change the fact that they have produced and disributed products that make our online experiences more favorable. And with that comes my choice. Videos on demand and the YouTube mentality should help to grow this one.

A shot of something
Also in the head-scratcher column: Adrenalina's almost ludicrous bid to buy out much larger rival Pacific Sunwear. It's not just the size difference that makes this bid a knee-slapper, but also the background of the person making it. Adrenalina's CEO has been through a similar PR gambit in the past, when he headed up a fragrance maker; it did not end well. Not even his board of directors at the time considered him serious. Now, with a total of just three stores in his "chain," mounting losses, no cash, and no backers, he wants to improve the operations of the teen surf-and-skate retailer, which some 250 times larger in terms of revenue, and has more than 900 stores nationwide.

Top-rated CAPS All-Star TMFBent acknowledges the threadbare condition of PacSun currently, but sees hope for the retailer's turnaround:

Doing horribly now, but not likely to have a liquidity event and management seems to know how to right the ship. Who knows how low things will go, but I expect a couple of bags minimum over the next 5 years. High risk, however.

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.

Fool contributor Rich Duprey owns shares of PacSun but does not have a financial position in any of the other stocks mentioned in this article. You can see his holdings here.

Pacific Sunwear is a Motley Fool Hidden Gems Pay Dirt and a Stock Advisor pick. GlaxoSmithKline is an Income Investor recommendation. Google and Akamai Technologies are Rule Breakers picks. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.