From tiny acquisitions to massive 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 130,000-plus investors in Motley Fool CAPS. A combination of two companies with high CAPS ratings should bode well for the new company, 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. Or, like this week, they might slow to a trickle. 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

First Solar (NASDAQ:FSLR)

**

OptiSolar project pipeline

NR

$400 million

Beckman Coulter

****

Diagnostic unit of Olympus

NR

$800 million

Barnes & Noble

**

Fictionwise

NR

$15.7 million

Helen of Troy

**

Global Infusium brand of Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG)

*****

Undisclosed

TNS

**

Communication services group of VeriSign (NASDAQ:VRSN)

**

$230 million

Lufkin Industries

*****

International Lift Systems

NR

Undisclosed

Merck (NYSE:MRK)

****

Schering-Plough (NYSE:SGP)

****

$41.4 billion

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

Dividends, too
The wave of consolidation in the pharmaceutical industry crested with the announcement that Merck and Schering-Plough look to combine in a huge $41 billion deal.

The combination, similar to the $68 billion merger recently announced between Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) and Wyeth (NYSE:WYE), would allow the two companies to consolidate product pipelines, streamline research and development budgets, and cut costs. The new company would have nearly $8 billion in cash, and management expects savings of about $3.5 billion per year after 2011. Merck also expects the deal to add modestly to non-GAAP earnings next year and add significantly to them after that. The drugmaker's $1.52 dividend would also remain intact: With Pfizer announcing that it will cut its dividend in half, Merck becomes that much more attractive.

Finding dividend payers that aren't in danger these days isn't an easy task, but doubling down on those that sport strong free cash flow is a way to give yourself some downside protection. As of last year, Merck paid out about 60% of its free cash flow in dividends, and management says it has no plans to cut that. I believe that payout ratio is a bit high, so I think bringing Schering-Plough into the tent will be Merck's saving grace. With a number of Merck's big sellers going off-patent over the next year or so, Schering-Plough provides some backup, doubling to 18 the number of drugs that the new company would have in late-stage development.

CAPS member hotelie likes the idea of reaping dividends before the market realizes the value inherent in this stock.

This 5.5% yielder looks to have a safer dividend in these times...get paid to wait for this solid blue chip... if time is on your side, this one could be worth keeping longer term

A value-added offer
What's your take on these deals? Let us know on Motley Fool CAPS. 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.

Pfizer is an Inside Value recommendation and a former Income Investor pick. The Fool owns shares of Procter & Gamble. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Rich Duprey owns shares of Merck and Procter & Gamble but does not have a financial position in any of the other stocks mentioned in this article. You can see his holdings. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.