In the early part of this decade, Corning Inc. treasurer Mark Rogus spent a good portion of his time trawling through the balance sheets of acquisition targets in the technology sector to get a fix on their liquidity and cash flow. Today, not so much. Other than government-driven mergers and acquisitions in the automotive and banking industries, M&A transactions are few and far between. Most mirror Kraft's recent overture to unwilling prospect candymaker Cadbury. Yet Corning and other companies are whetting their appetites for the return of M&A, which the lessened volatility in the stock market seems to promise. Stability equals an ability to get a clearer sense of what companies are really worth, from the standpoint of both the buyer and the seller.

A few studies and Goldman Sachs' optimistic CFO David Viniar posit an uptick in transactions late this year and early in 2010. If and when it happens, the usual rush down the aisles is expected. Key to getting a good deal–in addition to not paying too much, finding the right fit, not buying something too broken, and having the money, stock or credit to make the transaction–is your friendly neighborhood treasurer. "Our primary role in life is maintaining access to capital markets to ensure when the company needs money and doesn't have it on the balance sheet, we can get it at competitive rates, terms and covenants," says Rogus.

When the M&A standstill eases, Rogus is prepared to wade back into targets' balance sheets. This could happen soon at Corning, a New York-based maker of specialty glass and ceramics that had $5.6 billon in 2008 revenue. Corning CFO James Flaws said during a recent call with analysts that the company's "substantial" free cash flow has to be spent somewhere. "We are looking at acquisitions with more urgency than we were before and are expanding our corporate development group, so definitely that would be a potential use of the cash," Flaws said, adding the disclaimer, "assuming that the economy doesn't do something strange."

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