Ameritrade Amps Up

Thanks to continued investor enthusiasm, discount broker Ameritrade (Nasdaq: AMTD  ) this morning announced increasing trade volume and raised expectations for its fiscal 2004 first quarter. Shares are bouncing up almost 5% today on the news. After several dreary years, Ameritrade and fellow brokers E*Trade (NYSE: ET  ) and Charles Schwab (NYSE: SCH  ) have experienced a resurgence in business over the past several quarters.

In November, Ameritrade opened 15,000 net new brokerage accounts, which is down from the 20,000 net new accounts opened in October. However, average daily trading volume rose to 180,000 from 170,000 in October.

Because of the strength, Ameritrade now expects to earn $0.14-$0.17 a share for the first quarter (ending Dec. 31). Analysts were predicting $0.14 a share, and Ameritrade earned $0.05 a share in last year's Q1.

Ameritrade hopes its fortunes will continue because of investor activity and its recent acquisitions. The company announced in November that it's buying Bidwell & Co., adding 100,000 accounts and $5 billion in assets. In October, Ameritrade bought Brokerage America and purchased Mydiscountbroker.com in June.

For all of fiscal year 2004, Ameritrade's expectations are for a wide range of earnings: $0.37-$0.59. Analysts currently expect $0.55 a share. It seems likely that management could tighten its outlook as it moves further into the year. Shareholders who've held through the bad times, though, are undoubtedly pleased.

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Charles Schwab is aMotley Fool Stock Advisorrecommendation.


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