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Online Broker Stocks Mixed

Shares of the largest online brokers TD Ameritrade, E*Trade and Charles Schwab were mixed Wednesday, as concerns persisted that trading volume continued to decline in September.



) -- Shares of online brokers

TD Ameritrade



E*Trade Financial



Charles Schwab


were mixed Wednesday, as concerns persisted that trading volume continued to decline in September.

TD Ameritrade on Tuesday said its average daily client trades per day totaled 309,000 in August, down 28% from the year-age equivalent period and off 6% sequentially. Its rivals, Schwab and E*Trade also had disappointing DARTs for August; both firms saw trades decline about 5% sequentially, they said last week.

TD Ameritrade's average spread-based balances rose 27% from a year ago to $54.8 billion as of the end of August, it said. The broker's average fee-based balances of $66.4 billion, rose 16% in the same timeframe. Its client assets totaled $332 billion as of Aug. 31, an increase of 15% from the year earlier but down 2% from July.

Analysts attributed the trading slowdown to

lower volatility

as compared to August 2009 as well as general seasonality. However, the financial crisis of the past three years also appears to have sent many retail investors to the sidelines.

While the online brokers have made forays into more general financial services and wealth management offerings for their retail customers, trading commissions still make up a significant portion of fee revenue.

Trading volume in September has continued to fall, according to Rich Repetto, an analyst at Sandler O'Neill & Partners. As of September 13, DARTs were offl between 4% and 7% from the end of August, Repetto estimates in a TD Ameritrade-specific note on Wednesday.

Consolidated share volume to-date is down 4.4%, Repetto says.

However, the slower activity was "likely depressed earlier in the month due to Federal and religious holidays, and we have seen a slight pick-up in consolidated share volume (Tapes A, B, & C) the past week that we expect to continue for the balance of the month," Repetto writes.

He lowered retail DART estimates for TD Ameritrade to be flat month over month. Previously he expected TD Ameritrade's trades to increase 10% from August.

On the other hand, Madeline Schnapp, TrimTabs director of macroeconomic research, is skeptical that retail investors will move cash on the sidelines back into equities after being burned in the past decade's asset bubbles (tech and housing).

Additionally, despite savings incentives and education, many Baby Boomers are inadequately prepared for their approaching retirements, she wrote in a weekly macro analysis.

"Little of the money in U.S. Treasury securities, savings accounts, certificates of deposit (CDs), retail money market funds, and bond mutual funds is likely to flow into the stock market anytime soon," she wrote.

Schnapp added that she believes this money is "scared money that is unlikely to enter the stock market. We also believe that assets in retail money market funds and bond funds are unlikely to flow into equities."

Still Repetto recommends

buying shares of all three big brokers


In a separate E*Trade note on Tuesday, he revisited the subject of a potential sale of the company. He suggests that, based on prior online brokerage M&A, E*Trade would likely fetch between $4 billion and $10 billion if sold. TD Ameritrade or Schwab may be willing to pay more than $6 billion for E*Trade based on the accretion potential of the deal.

"While we believe that an acquisition is not likely for at least a year, we expect that the steady decline in the size of

E*Trade's loan portfolio combined with improvements in credit quality will bring potential merger scenarios back to investors' attention," Repetto wrote.

Shares of TD Ameritrade were recently falling 0.9% to $16.03 on volume 6 million shares -- above its three-month daily average of 4.8 million. Schwab's stock was falling 2.2% to $13.61.

On the other hand, E*Trade shares were trudging 2% higher to $14.61 on volume of just below 4 million.

--Written by Laurie Kulikowski in New York.

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Laurie Kulikowski


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