There Goes Another One

Don't rent a tuxedo or a bridal party gown. Buy one. That's probably the best way to make sure that you will be ready for the next round of discount-brokerage nuptials. Yesterday it was E*Trade (NYSE: ET  ) announcing that it will acquire BrownCo in a $1.6 billion deal.

It's a great catch for E*Trade. The deal will add only 200,000 accounts to E*Trade's base of more than 4 million, but these are also choice customers. The average BrownCo account consists of better than $145,000 in assets. BrownCo customers are a leveraged lot as well, taking advantage of $3 billion in margin account balances. That nearly matches the $3.2 billion in margin balances at E*Trade after it completes its $700 million acquisition of Harrisdirect later this year. BrownCo customers are also quite active, averaging a revenue trade every seven days. In comparison, it's roughly a month between trades for E*Trade's current accounts. That's why E*Trade is willing to pay more than twice as much for BrownCo than it did for Harrisdirect, despite Harrisdirect's bringing 420,000 accounts to the union.

A smooth integration will be critical, since BrownCo customers will be keeping an eye out for any revised commission schedules or changes in trade executions. It's in E*Trade's best interest to disrupt the account holders as little as possible, as it gradually markets its assortment of financial services.

That's how it's been in the trade trade lately. Ameritrade (Nasdaq: AMTD  ) beat out E*Trade to land Toronto Dominion's (NYSE: TD  ) TD Waterhouse division over the summer. Charles Schwab (NYSE: SCH  ) hasn't been as acquisitive, though it has lowered rates to remain competitive.

When will the consolidation end? Will we come to the sad day when the broker comparison table in our Discount Broker Center runs just one column long? Don't bet on it. However, until told otherwise, you'd better get that wedding wear back from the cleaners before the next set of discounters partners up.

Charles Schwab is aMotley Fool Stock Advisorrecommendation.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has been trading exclusively through discount brokers since 1990, but he does not own shares in any of the companies in this story. The Fool has adisclosure policy. He is also part of theRule Breakersnewsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.


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