After hunkering down for the past two years, CEOs are finally ready to start thinking about ways to grow their companies, experts say. Mergers and acquisitions are on the rise, with such companies as Kraft, Prudential and Merck seeking out multibillion-dollar deals to expand their reach. Still, not everyone's convinced the moment's right for expensive mergers: Companies including Rio Tinto and the U.K.'s National Express have been forced to drop high-profile deals after shareholder protests.

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