The acquisition of online brokerage E*Trade Financial (NASDAQ:ETFC) by white-shoe investment bank Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MS) has won approval from its most critical regulator. According to a report in Bloomberg citing "a person familiar with the matter," the U.S. Department of Justice's antitrust division has signed off on the deal without mandating any changes to it.
The DOJ has not officially commented on the story, nor has E*Trade or Morgan Stanley.
If the article is accurate, the DOJ green light would represent quick progress for a deal announced barely over a month ago. Morgan Stanley agreed to pay $13 billion in its stock for E*Trade, which, although a pioneer in the online trading space, had struggled with profitability throughout its history.
The E*Trade/Morgan Stanley deal is part of a consolidation wave in the brokerage sector. It was announced only a few months after Charles Schwab and E*Trade rival TD Ameritrade announced a similar tie-up, this one to be transacted in $26 billion worth of the former's stock.
These moves come in the wake of a withering commission price war among brokerages. Last year, this culminated in the widespread abandonment of trading commissions altogether. TD Ameritrade, for example, had charged $6.95 per trade before it succumbed to the trend. This made E*Trade and its peers more vulnerable, since despite some diversification, the loss of commission revenue was a major financial blow to these companies.
Both E*Trade and Morgan Stanley stocks rose on Monday. The former slightly eclipsed the gains of the top stock market indexes, while the latter lagged marginally behind them.