Schwab beats estimates, and online brokers could get hot

The fortunes of U.S. online brokerages may rise this year, even if investor portfolios do not.

Today, Charles Schwab Corp. (SCHW), the largest independent brokerage by client assets, was the first online brokerage to report earnings for the first quarter, posting a profit loss of 29 percent over the first three months of the year. Net income fell from $305 million, or 26 cents a share, to $218 million, or 19 cents a share -- a substantial loss, but better than the 16 cents a share average forecast by 14 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.