This summer, every financial stock has had a run through the rumor mill. Friday, it's
Shares in the San Francisco online brokerage rose 11% Friday, bucking a broad market downturn and a second day of retreats in financial stocks. Investors took notice of a
report that top brass at
and Schwab have held informal talks in recent months. The story held that if there's one firm Schwab would sell to, it's Goldman.
Schwab wasn't immediately available for comment. A Goldman spokeswoman declined to comment, saying that the firm doesn't comment on rumors.
Gene Marcial, the
irreproachable author of the article, is not the first to report on such a deal, and people close to the situation Friday downplayed the talk as a rumor and old news. But with the
Nasdaq Composite Index off 2.8% and financial issues still reeling from
Morgan Stanley Dean Witter's
weak report Thursday, Schwab's $3.44 rise to $33.44 shows investors are willing to take a chance. Goldman shares were off $1.75 to $111.50.
Also signaling investors' willingness to speculate: Call-buying, a bullish
options bet that gives the holder the right, though not the obligation, to buy shares at a specified price by a set date, was robust in the wake of the
Merger speculation in the financial sector has been rife as megadeals, such as
plan to buy
, have multiplied. But Schwab shares have been largely left out of the swings that have affected competitors and potential targets like
Knight Trading Group
For one thing, Schwab's stance has typically been that it doesn't favor such megadeals because they may not deliver value to shareholders. Schwab's not exactly cheap, either: With shares trading at more than 50 times 2000 earnings, any potential buyer would be paying quite a premium.
And then there's the question of why Goldman would buy a retail brokerage, particularly one that targets online investors, when Goldman has painstakingly built its own online plan for rich folk. During a roadshow for its secondary offer in late July, Goldman told investors and analysts that its long-planned online investing service,
, would undergo beta testing this summer and be launched by year-end.
Also, in a move clearly aimed at broadening its revenue stream without pulling it into a monster deal, the firm
agreed last week to buy trading house
Spear Leeds & Kellogg
But with merger mania on the loose, some investors can't help but want to believe.