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Below the Beltway

Hi, Finance!

A primer on mergers and inquisitions

By Gene Weingarten
Sunday, April 10, 2005; Page W48

From time to time I get mail accusing me of being shallow and/or juvenile. Well, my detractors may be surprised to know that, like other well-rounded, sophisticated adults, I read the financial news. Not long ago, I saw an item that intrigued me: "Shares of Sara Lee Corp. rose after the maker of Hanes underwear and Jimmy Dean sausages replaced its chief executive and said it will spin off its clothing business and sell other slower-growing units . . ."

This item convinced me that some additional financial reporting was needed, so I phoned a corporate spokeswoman at Sara Lee.

(Eric Shansby)

Me: I understand that, through its subsidiaries, Sara Lee makes both men's underpants and sausages. I was wondering if you found that as funny as I do.

Julie Ketay: I am not going to answer inappropriate questions.

Me: I'm just doing research here.

Julie: Sara Lee makes a variety of products that our consumers ask for. We are happy we make the products we make.

Me: Sara Lee also makes "buns," right?


Me: Hello?

Julie: Yes. For hamburgers and hot dogs.

Me: I also noted from my research that Sara Lee owns Playtex and Wonderbra. But it also owns a grocery in Holland. Do you know if they sell melons?

I thought that went pretty well, from a journalistic standpoint. So I researched other corporate affiliations. It turns out that mega-mergers and acquisitions have created a lot of unusual combinations of products.

Altria Group Inc.

Me: I couldn't help but notice that through two subsidiaries -- Philip Morris, and Callard and Bowser Inc. -- you guys not only make cigarettes but also Altoids, the curiously strong mint.

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