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 opportunity to capture the best returns. A combination of two companies with high CAPS ratings should bode well for the new company's future results, while a highly 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 (Out of 5)

Target

CAPS Rating

Deal Price

3M (NYSE:MMM)

*****

Grafoplast

NR

Undisclosed

Amdocs

****

Changing World

NR

$60 million

American Capital (NASDAQ:ACAS)

****

European Capital, remaining portion

NR

$158 million

AT&T (NYSE:T)

****

Wayport

NR

$275 million

AT&T

****

Centennial Communications

**

$977 million

Fidelity National Financial

**

Land Financial

*

$128.4 million

GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE:GSK)

****

Genelabs

NR

$57 million

StatoilHydro (NYSE:STO)

****

32.5% of Marcellus shale interest of Chesapeake Energy (NYSE:CHK)

*****

As much as $3.4 billion

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

A merger of equals?
It's not exactly joining two companies together, but the deal between Norway's StatoilHydro and the largest U.S. gas producer, Chesapeake Energy, will allow them to exploit the latter's large Marcellus Shale properties and grow together. Some analysts think Statoil paid too much for the rights and that Chesapeake therefore got the better end of the deal. Yet if CAPS member Seansonfire is correct, a new administration will be a rising tide that lifts all boats: "Top US Natural Gas Stock, with Obama coming in to office soon, expanding the natural gas [infrastructure] could be a part of his energy plan. This is the stock to benefit from that expansion."

Meanwhile, as exceptional as it's been at generating cash in recent years, American Capital suddenly finds itself in need of preserving cash. The investment company reported a quarterly loss of $548 million, suspended its dividend, and cut the value of its investment in European Capital, which it says it will now completely acquire. To do so, however, it will also suspend its share-buyback program. Without a dividend, though, All-Star CAPS member guiron wonders where the value is here:

Dividends suspended. Outlook not so great. Will see where this is in three months. …
[I]t's not worth much without the dividend.

Dialing for dollars
Ma Bell is in an acquisitive mood these days -- she's bought up two companies this week. If either can add up to even a small fraction of the synergies it has realized from teaming up with Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and its iPhone, it will have accomplished a lot. After all, it was the iPhone that gave AT&T its earnings jolt this quarter. Wireless activations of the new iPhone totaled 2.4 million, with 40% of those activations representing new AT&T wireless customers. CAPS member 0xF00L believes that with rivals dropping like flies, it's all about the iPhone.

iPhone baby ...

Big dividends ... don't worry that they are big brother.

[Sprint Nextel] is dead ... only [Verizon] is their competitor.

A value-added offer
What's your take on these deals? Let us know on Motley Fool CAPS. And 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. There's more at CAPS than you think.

GlaxoSmithKline and American Capital are Income Investor selections. 3M, Sprint, and Chesapeake Energy are Inside Value recommendations. Apple is a Stock Advisor selection. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Rich Duprey has no financial position in any of the stocks mentioned in this article. You can see his holdings. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.