In retrospect, I should have seen this coming. The days of incredible shrinking trade fees are over. That much was obvious when Ameritrade (NASDAQ:AMTD) killed its deep-budget trading service Freetrade, sending us a cheesy, upbeat letter in a vain attempt to mask reality. Those $0 trades? They're going to be $5 a pop on our decidedly non-free platform with a name ripped off straight from Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL)! Welcome to the Izone!

Of course, Ameritrade had to start charging something on the deep-budget end; that's the only way it can make up for recent drops in trading activity. Ameritrade is a public company, of course, so profits come first, even if that means alienating customers -- 50,000 of whom bolted last quarter. But the price war may finally have taken its toll.

With this particular Fool among the many who feel like victims of a bait-and-switch (and who is joining last quarter's 50,000 in moving his accounts elsewhere), it's only natural that Ameritrade, lonely and spurned, would go looking for love -- and perhaps find it in a longtime rival's arms.

Today, Ameritrade shot up on a Wall Street Journal report of an upcoming offer from E*trade (NYSE:ET), a rival that's also been hit by the price war and lower trading volumes, but which has found solace in the comforts of banking. After all, Americans may be less enthusiastic about stocks, but their appetite for credit has never been better.

The buyout would reportedly pay as much as $15 a stub for Ameritrade, though the press -- if not investors, who've left shares closer to the $13 level -- are looking forward to another suitor and a bidding war. Investors in E*trade apparently like the idea as well, bidding the shares up 6%.

This Fool wonders what's with all the enthusiasm. Is two times trouble really better than one? Does anyone really think that trading revenues will stabilize with fewer players on the field? For how long?

As merger activity in the markets themselves show, everything's going electronic, and as long as that's the trend, the trading fees are going to continue to drop. With JPMorgan's (NYSE:JPM) BrownCo at $5 for market orders, Scottrade at $7 and Interactivebrokers charging even less, I dare say that online brokerages need to think of (gasp!) another way to make money.

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Seth Jayson owns none of the companies mentioned.