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The takeover challenge: Sell right away or gamble on a big payoff?

The lesson from the collapse of the Astral Media Inc. and BCE Inc. deal? Take the money and run.

Too often, investors stick around too long after a takeover offer has propelled one of their holdings to dreamy heights, only to see the share price collapse when the takeover deal falls through because of regulatory concerns or second thoughts on the part of the acquirer.

Shortly before Canada's broadcast regulator killed the friendly merger between the two telecom companies, Astral shares looked like a sure bet.

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BCE's offer was for $50 a share. As recently as early September, Astral shares traded at just $46.40 – a tantalizing $3.60 gap between the bid and trading price.

If you believed the deal was going to go through, a short-term upside of nearly 7 per cent looked very attractive.

Existing investors must have felt compelled to hang on to their Astral shares until the deal's conclusion – even though the shares had already jumped thanks to BCE's offer of a 38 per cent premium, well above the typical premiums of 15 to 25 per cent. And new investors must have feltè drawn to the prospect of easy winnings at the closing of the deal.

But for all the jaw-dropping reactions to the CRTC's decision against the deal on Thursday, breakups and rejections are all too common in the world of mergers and acquisitions.

If recent history is any indication, it might be better to recognize a good deal when you see one, rather than hang on to an investment for too long.

BHP offered a split-adjusted $43.33 (U.S.) a share for Potash Corp. in 2010. While Potash shares climbed considerably higher than the initial offer, they didn't fare well when the offer fell through.

Rona shares crumbled after Lowe's walked away from its offer for the Quebec-based home improvement retailer in September.

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Microsoft offered $29.40 a share for Yahoo in 2008, then raised the bid to $33 before giving up. Yahoo shares have traded below $16 for most of the past four years.

Isolated cases? Perhaps. And there are plenty of takeover deals that go through, some of them rewarding investors who hold on for bigger and better offers.

But when you consider your most painful moments in investing, regret over selling too early and reaping a profit can't compare to hanging on too long and walking away with nothing.

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