Global uncertainties and market volatility may be the kind of things that keep investors up at night, but they're ultimately sweet sights for the discount brokerage industry.

This week, E*TRADE (Nasdaq: ETFC), Charles Schwab (Nasdaq: SCHW), and optionsXpress (Nasdaq: OXPS) all reported brisk trading activity for the month of February. Interactive Brokers (Nasdaq: IBKR) and TD AMERITRADE (Nasdaq: AMTD) also checked in earlier this month with healthy metrics.

The performances are a welcome contrast to February of last year, when bored investors took the bull run for granted. Panic-selling and opportunistic knife-catching have been juicing trading volume lately, as last month's data clearly shows:


Feb. 2011 vs. Feb. 2010

Feb. 2011 vs. Jan. 2011




Charles Schwab






Interactive Brokers






Active clients will generate vibrant current quarters, but the wider long-term snapshot is also looking good. All five of the brokers posted healthy net new brokerage asset growth in February.

The bigger commitment test will obviously come when we get March's data in a few weeks. There have been more than a few equity implosions this month, and it will be interesting to see whether client loyalty has wavered.

The past few cruel trading days have finally turned the year-to-date returns of the S&P 500 and tech-heavy Nasdaq negative.

Will that be enough to scare away fickle traders, or are investors nimble enough to profit from the panic?

The discounters will let us know next month, once the March metrics are out and they release first-quarter earnings. For now, investors should expect strong quarterly results from all of the web-savvy discounters.

You can trade on it!

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Interactive Brokers Group, optionsXpress Holdings, and Charles Schwab are Motley Fool Stock Advisor picks. The Fool owns shares of Interactive Brokers Group. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.

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. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.