The urge to merge


LANCE Hefferman is a merger specialist for Afghan, Labrador and Boxer, and he keeps me informed about all the mergers now taking place on Wall Street.

"I'm ready to call it a frenzy," he said. "The goldfish are eating the sharks and the sharks are sucking up the crabs. We're back to the '80s when companies were offering dead dogs for dead cats."

"What is causing it all?"

"Entertainment. Everyone wants a piece of show business because as more workers in the country are laid off, there will be more people watching television. In a few years every person will have access to 500 channels and nobody will be able to leave the house."

"Can the cable industry supply programming for 500 channels?"

"Of course not. That's why the telephone conglomerates are buying movie companies."

"Why are the phone companies so interested in show business?"

"Because they know that the phone industry is dying."

"What will replace it?"

"Voice mail. People will no longer talk directly to each other -- they will leave messages on each other's voice mail. There's not enough money in phones any more even though they charge $75 for the first 10 minutes to fix one. But you can make a bundle in cable TV because once the market is sewn up, you can charge anything you want to as long as you give the subscriber a weather channel."

"I notice that Paramount was about to be bought by Viacom. Now Barry Diller of the QVC shopping channel has raised the bid and, instead of Paramount exchanging dead dogs for dead cats, the stockholders are being offered cash by an unfriendly suitor. Was that a dumb move on Paramount's part?"

"It looks that way, but nobody said that the people at Paramount ever knew what they were doing."

"There is a rumor that the telephone company wants to buy Coca-Cola. Any truth to it?"

"The story is all over Wall Street. It appears that one of their engineers has invented a way of sending Coke through the phone system so that it will pour out of the mouthpiece when a person pushes 3 on his phone. If that's true, sales of Coke will triple."

"That's fantastic."

"The phone company also plans to sell air bags for subscribers making long-distance calls from pay booths."

"Are there any other mergers I should keep my eye on?"

"Sony wants to buy Kodak since the Rochester company developed a disposable television set. You can watch three hours of prime time and then toss the set out the window."

"That's unreal. Is there anything holding up the merger?"

"Nothing except that Kodak wants to first merge with the anti-trust division of the Justice Department to give it leverage when it makes a pass at Michael Jackson."

"Tell me something. Do any of these mergers benefit the country?"

"No, but they give people in the merger business some extra change just before Christmas."

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