All eyes may be on the brokerage industry these days, given some recent high-profile hook-ups, but today's impressive quarterly profit gains from Ameritrade (NASDAQ:AMTD) might just turn investors' heads.

Ameritrade said that net income in its fiscal third quarter rose 20% to $74.7 million, or $0.18 per share. Revenue increased 6.5% to $234.4 million. Investors received more good news from the online brokerage's forecast of a "record year" of results, with predicted fiscal 2005 earnings of $0.75 to $0.80 per share.

This positive showing may come as a relief after all the aggression among online brokers. Ameritrade recently said it would snap upToronto Dominion's (NYSE:TD) TD Waterhouse unit in a $2.9 billion deal. The company also spurned advances from rival E*Trade (NYSE:ET), while Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick Charles Schwab (NYSE:SCH) firmly refused any potential suitors.

Ameritrade's good earnings news came with a bit of negativity. Its average daily client trades fell 15% from last year, while commission revenues dropped 17% to $113 million. Ameritrade's rivals are also suffering from similar ongoing woes, which have encouraged the industry's urge to merge.

Despite Ameritrade's 20% earnings increase, the considerable upheaval in the industry at large may be enough to give some investors pause. As consolidation runs rampant, price wars for coveted clients continue unabated. In today's announcement, Ameritrade management wouldn't rule out further acquisitions, a predictable stance given the current climate. However, some investors might worry that a breakneck series of buyouts could leave Ameritrade struggling to integrate a host of newly acquired companies.

I can understand why the online brokerage space has become so vibrant. It will likely grow even more relevant as more people migrate to online tasks and grow increasingly self-directed (and Foolish) with their financial destinies. For the near term, it's no surprise that some investors might exercise caution in this industry as things continue to shake out.

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Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned.