Gongol.com Archives: March 2011
Brian Gongol

March 7, 2011

Business and Finance "Merger mania" among architecture firms
Whenever an extended period of consolidation in any industry goes down, the thoughtful observer ought to take a step back and ask whether the mergers are taking place because real efficiencies are being gained, or because it's just convenient for the people at the top. It's a grand stroke to the ego to preside over the acquisition of another company, but just because it's good for the id of the executive suite doesn't mean it was actually a smart strategic move. It's particularly suspicious when consolidation takes place within a single market -- like architecture. Smart investing is often a bit opportunistic -- Warren Buffett has legendarily built Berkshire Hathaway by buying whatever was the most attractive opportunity of any sort to be found, whether that's been insurance companies, candy makers, furniture stores, or railroads. He's never laid out a specific agenda to build a monopolistic company in any single market. For insight why, consider the case of eminent domain. The government reserves the right to force people to sell out when their land gets in the way of major projects (like a highway) because land that might only normally be worth $5,000 an acre increases in value when it's in the route of a project. In order to complete the route, all of the individual pieces have to be acquired first. A holdout could, hypothetically, demand a $50,000 or even $500,000-per-acre price if that acre happens to be the last remaining acre required to complete the route. Similarly, the market for a specific type of firm only has a limited "route", in that there are only a certain number of firms available within a given market, and the more one company wishes to acquire market share through acquisition, the more it ought to expect to find itself paying for incrementally more market share. That same capital, rather than being used to buy out more market share in a single industry, could -- at one point or another -- instead be more efficiently deployed acquiring completely unrelated companies. It's a deep microeconomic question, to be sure, but merger mania is often just that -- an ego-driven craze, not a smart business decision.

Business and Finance Dallas Federal Reserve president says enough's enough
He wants Congress to stop spending beyond its means, and now he's threatening to vote against plans to keep buying government bonds in the open market, in order to starve the beast a little bit

Iowa A new approach to Lenten fasting
Well, it might be a really old approach, too. But an Iowa man is going to try to survive on nothing but water and bock beer throughout Lent.

Computers and the Internet The surprising secrets of Pac-Man
The game's simplicity is undoubtedly what keeps it so attractive -- Tetris does the same thing, by the way -- but there are some things about Pac-Man that most people will probably find surprising, including the fact that the ghosts actually follow a predictable pattern of behavior.

Humor and Good News Toot your own horn

Water News State budget-balancing puts strain on Nebraska cities