If E*Trade's (Nasdaq: ETFC ) stock was legal tender it would take two shares to buy a Big Mac sandwich, five shares to cover the broker's cheapest stock commission, and nearly 2 million shares to cover another E*Trade Baby commercial slot during next year's Super Bowl.
It's cruel math, but what else can one say when even the E*Trade Baby's age has probably passed the discount broker's share price?
This has to be frustrating for investors because the company's metrics are refreshingly solid. This morning's monthly activity update for April is inspiring. E*Trade ended the month with a record 4.5 million accounts, closing out April with 32,550 more brokerage accounts than when it started.
Sure, E*Trade's net banking accounts shrank by 6,677 last month, but it's hard to promote online banking when interest rates are falling. During the first quarter alone, the company's flagship Complete Savings Account (CSA) vehicle has gone from yielding a healthy 3.01% to a more pedestrian 1.54% rate. As for this morning, the yield has shrunk to a mere 0.95%. Money market rates have taken a hit all over, but it's less compelling to transfer out of a bank to "chase" a payout of less than 1%, even if it is five times the national average.
Either way this is a brokerage growth story, and April rocked on that front. With 230,345 daily average revenue trades last month -- up nearly 35% from last April and a respectable 7% uptick from March -- the flurry of trading activity is E*Trade's friend. The firm has had seven consecutive months of net inflows, with $300 million in net new customer assets in April.
Then reality hits you like bird poop falling on a shady park bench. Analysts see an entirely different E*Trade. They see losses widening this quarter, unlike the consistent profitability investors find in larger rivals Charles Schwab (Nasdaq: SCHW ) and TD AMERITRADE (Nasdaq: AMTD ) . Even smaller niche specialists like optionsXpress (Nasdaq: OXPS ) and thinkorswim (Nasdaq: SWIM ) are routinely in the black.
April's strong start will naturally lead shareholders to bet on E*Trade outsmarting its pessimistic analysts, but that trend isn't kind. The company has posted wider-than-expected losses in each of the past six quarters.
Sure, E*Trade is cool. It has a winning marketing schtick with the E*Trade Baby. It is ahead of the curve in rolling out smartphone apps for Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) iPhone and Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM ) BlackBerry jockeys. However, its stock is smarting because its income statement hasn't been able to keep its end of the bargain.
A few more months like April, and E*Trade will be able to change that. Until then, though, it will have to enviously watch Schwab and AMERITRADE frolic in the teens without it.