Things are going well for E*Trade (NYSE:ET). Thanks to strong trading momentum and the earlier-than-expected close of two previously announced acquisitions, the online discount broker expects to earn between $1.30 and $1.45 per share in 2006. Back out a nickel per share in merger integration costs, and the range still looks better than the $1.29 per share that Wall Street was banking on.

The company now expects to complete its $700 million acquisition of Harrisdirect in the first quarter, with the $1.6 billion deal for BrownCo to close during the following quarter. The purchases will be accretive, adding $0.19 per share to E*Trade's bottom line next year.

That may be why the consolidation bug has been nibbling aplenty in the discount brokerage sector. Earlier this year, Ameritrade (NASDAQ:AMTD) beat out E*Trade to land Toronto Dominion's (NYSE:TD) TD Waterhouse division.

The flurry may concern investors who feel their choices further limited with every pairing. Are we headed for the day when Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick Charles Schwab (NYSE:SCH), E*Trade, and Ameritrade are the three remaining discount brokers? Assuming one of them doesn't simply wolf down the other two?

That's unlikely, though consolidation clearly has its advantages for the companies themselves. With fewer rivals to worry about, price wars are less likely to break out. Over the past year, E*Trade's average trade commission has gone from $10.27 to $10.78. In 2006, the broker is looking for the average commission per revenue trade to run between $12.25 to $12.40.

This doesn't mean that E*Trade is inching its commission rates higher. It's all part of the more attractive trade revenue mix. That's why investors seeking out a new broker are encouraged to check out the broker comparison table in our Discount Broker Center. It's not a definitive list -- it's a sponsored one. However, it will at least give you ballpark figures of what to expect in trying to find out how much your stock portfolio will run you in fees over time.

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