And then there were nine…

On Friday, we offered readers a look at our top targets for M&A activity in 2011, available previously just for FootnotedPro subscribers only. We don’t generally like to get all breathless here at footnoted, but you might want to snag a copy sooner rather than later: One of our top 10 just got snapped up.

Smurfit-Stone Container (SSCC) said this morning it will be bought by Rock-Tenn (RKT) for $3.5 billion to create a cardboard- and paper-container company that Bloomberg News calls second only to International Paper (IP). The company’s shares are trading around $35.40, up 27% from Jan. 14, when we first published our top 10.

In our report, we noted that Smurfit-Stone, which had emerged from bankruptcy reorganization over the summer, lost its chief operating officer, Steven Klinger, just months after signing a new employment agreement with him. This despite having all but promised to make him the next president and chief executive. Moreover, Klinger was sticking around as a consultant through March 31 this year, with favorable equity-award treatment should a change-of-control occur in a relatively narrow window.

Given these and other signals, we said, “it’s possible that negotiations for a sale are occurring.” Looks like we were right.

You can still get a copy of our Top 10 Top Nine for 2011 by filling out this short online form. But we’re only able to send the report to people with institutional or educational email addresses (so please don’t send in requests from your gmail, aol, hotmail, yahoo, etc.. accounts). The other companies range from around $390 million to $6 billion in market-cap, in telecom, health-care, energy and other sectors.