For those Americans who follow the daily gyrations of the stock market with a certain degree of fervor, it should come as no surprise that 1984 is expected to go down as another record year for corporate mergers. And not just run-of-the-mill mergers and takeovers. No, we're talking about linkups of major corporations with billions of dollars in assets.
In that regard, remarks last week by the Reagan administration's antitrust chief are well worth noting. Assistant Attorney General J. Paul McGrath spelled out what is believed to be the strongest statement yet by any administration official that the Justice Department is eager to give a green light to joint-venture agreements between companies as an important alternative to actual mergers.
Such an approach makes sense. Under joint ventures, two or more companies pool resources to engage in some common purpose, such as research and development, marketing, or production. Recently, for example, Mr. McGrath persuaded the Atlantic Richfield Company of Los Angeles and Alcan Aluminium Ltd. of Canada to change from a proposed takeover by Alcan of Arco's newest aluminum rolling mill. A joint venture was agreed on instead and the mill thus stays under US control.
The policy on joint ventures, judging by Mr. McGrath's comments, involves these elements:
* Joint ventures will be considered more favorably than outright mergers.
* Joint ventures geared to research-and-development programs will be particularly welcomed. Joint ventures involving production or services will be given more careful scrutiny under antitrust policies.
* On the other hand, joint ventures will be opposed if they restrict competition.
It hardly need be added that the way the Justice Department carries out all this will warrant close attention.
Surely, a vigorous economy requires as much genuine competition as possible. But competition need not preclude firms occasionally working together on limited objectives.