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 130,000-plus investors in Motley Fool CAPS. 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. Or, like this week, they might just 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

Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ:GILD)

****

CV Therapeutics (NASDAQ:CVTX)

***

$1.4 billion

Harmonic (NASDAQ:HLIT)

****

Scopus Video Networks

NR

$50 million

Roche

NR

Genentech (NYSE:DNA)

****

$46.8 billion

Gammon Gold (NYSE:GRS)

**

Capital Gold

NR

$150.5 million

Enzo Biochem

***

Assay Designs

NR

$12.2 million

A-S Medical Solutions

NR

Medication services unit of Allscripts-Misys

***

Undisclosed

Barclays (NYSE:BCS)

***

Bear Wagner specialists business of JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM)

***

$41.4 billion

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

Into it deep
As investors, we rarely think about what goes on behind the scenes after we place our orders to buy and sell stocks with our brokerage firms. We buy 100 shares here, sell 50 shares there, and never think any more about it, so long as our trades get completed.

Yet operating behind the scenes are automated trading systems, exchanges, and a complex network of specialists who not only work as auctioneers showing the best bids for stocks, but also place the orders on behalf of their broker clients -- and provide liquidity when the market doesn't. As electronic trading becomes more prevalent, however, the days of the specialist appear numbered.

According to researchers at Celent, specialists could see their 27% share of the trading volume shrink to just 10% by 2012, while electronic order booking grows to 65% of the market. They also see the changes that the New York Stock Exchange enacted last year to reform the process as not being enough "to stop the slow slide into obscurity of the specialists."

With Barclays' purchase of JPMorgan Chase's Bear Wagner specialists business, however, it will double the U.K.-based bank's market-making business. After the purchase, there will be only five such specialist firms at the NYSE. JPMorgan acquired the specialist business when it bought Bear Stearns in the investment firm's fire sale that touched off the financial crisis last year. Meanwhile, Barclays acquired the specialist business of Lehman Brothers when it bought part of that firm in the September meltdown. By consolidating the 12% market share of its current Lehman business with Bear Wagner's 16% market share, Barclays will vault ahead of current specialist leader LaBranche.

So far, Barclays has avoided participating in the U.K.'s bank bailout, a point that CAPS member Pat999 noted in its favor as a strong institution:

Have not received bailout money, are considering not participating in the UK's asset insurance program, were profitable in Q4 2008 and Y2008. Trading just above EPS for 2008 and are buying up competitors (Lehman, Bear Wagner) and opening branches (Vermont) while the industry is contracting. This will put them in a VERY good position when the global economy gets back on track.

However, it appears that the bank may yet decide to join in Britain's asset protection scheme -- though how and to what extent remains nebulous.

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

CV Therapeutics is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers pick. JPMorgan Chase is a former Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Rich Duprey does not have a financial position in any of the stocks mentioned in this article. You can see his holdings here. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.