Corroon & Black and American General Corp.
Put those names on the headstone. The stock market last week buried the last of the speculators who have been hoping for a revival in '80s-style corporate takeover activity.
The stock market hasn't been very generous lately to people who try to make a living from takeovers. Professional speculators, known as arbitrageurs, are still being pushed out of their jobs all over Wall Street. And most of the small investors who were playing the takeover craze for the past decade have probably been reformed by some recent sizable losses.
But this past week, Corroon & Black and American General may have marked the last stand for many speculators -- pros and amateurs alike.
"If the arbs weren't dead already, Corroon & Black and American General just killed them," said one of the arbs who was still standing.
Both stocks dropped sharply last week when takeover situations didn't go the way Wall Street had expected. Corroon, an insurance broker, rejected a takeover bid by Aon Corp. in favor of a lower-priced offer from Willis Faber PLC. Aon appeared to walk away.
And American General -- considered a cinch to be sold -- shocked the stock market by indicating that it could not find a willing buyer and would have to restructure itself instead.
News that those two deals had gone sour sent a huge cloud over the stock market last week. Even shares of a stock like UAL Corp. fell, despite relatively positive news earlier in the week when it was reported that the company's unions were trying to put together a revised buyout offer.
What also bothered some Wall Street traders last week was that stocks -- even those not involved in takeovers -- seemed to be overreacting to both positive and negative news developments. This could be partly because there has been so little news about companies coming out lately that traders are starved for announcements.
UAL's stock (before the late-week dip) rose sharply earlier last week on a published report that a new takeover offer might be coming from its employees. The only problem: The news was old. The gossip about a new bid had been around Wall Street for weeks, and numerous people had already confirmed it before it got into print.
The same sort of overreaction is happening on the downside. The stock of Merck & Co., one of Wall Street's favorites, was beaten up Wednesday after a little-known brokerage firm questioned the effectiveness of a new Merck drug for prostate conditions.
Even Merck was shocked by the sell-off, and the company quickly prepared a statement saying that testing of the drug was moving ahead successfully.
By the end of last week, traders -- whether they were investing in takeovers or ordinary stocks -- were dumbfounded and paralyzed.
John Crudele is a columnist for the New York Post.