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Schwab Clears Bear's Path

Bear Stearns (BSC) may be huge in the back-office business of clearing stocks, but it's looking to Charles Schwab (SCHW) for some help when it comes to processing mutual fund trades.

In a surprising move, Bear Stearns -- long a Wall Street titan in the arcane business of clearing trades -- recently inked a deal with Schwab to clear and execute most of its mutual fund trading, sources say. In recent years, Schwab has become a leader in providing mutual fund clearing services to other investment firms and asset managers.

The outsourcing arrangement means that the hundreds of small brokerages and hedge funds that currently clear stock trades through Bear Stearns now will have their mutual fund buy or sell orders processed by Schwab. The terms of the arrangement are unknown, but it's believed the outsourcing deal is scheduled to last for several years.

The deal, which has been in the works for months, comes nine months after Bear Stearns reached a $250 million settlement with securities regulators over allegations arising from the long-running mutual fund trading scandal. The penalty was one of the largest imposed on a brokerage firm, in an investigation that has collected nearly $4 billion in fines and restitution.

In settling with Bear Stearns, officials with the Securities and Exchange Commission painted an ugly portrait of the firm's clearing division, calling it a full-service facilitator and "hub" for abusive traders.

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