Investment banker Goldman Sachs (NYS: GS) advised E*TRADE (NAS: ETFC) last month that its best path to improve shareholder value would be to not seek a sale of the company. Is it too late for a second opinion?
Shares of E*TRADE and Charles Schwab (NYS: SCHW) opened lower today after the discount brokers released uninspiring trading activity for the month of November.
Daily average revenue trades at E*TRADE fell by 11% relative to last November, and were off 10% when pitted against October's trading. Schwab did manage to post a 5% year-over-year gain, but suffered a sharp 15% sequential hit.
The news is slightly worse than the metrics that rival TD AMERITRADE (NAS: AMTD) put out last Friday. TD AMERITRADE's November trading activity was off by 4% stacked against last November and just down by 7% when matched up against October.
The good news here is that all three discount brokers are holding up well in terms of client assets. Folks may not be trading the way they used to, but they're certainly not closing their accounts. The same low-interest-rate environment that's been giving brokers headaches is also a blessing. After all, where is an investor going to turn? Fixed income is as scintillating as putting one's money under a mattress. Real estate's still feeling for a bottom. Gold's nearing a two-month low.
This is actually the kind of environment that would have made E*TRADE a compelling acquisition target for either Schwab or TD AMERITRADE, or perhaps an opportunity for one of the "too big to fail" banks. Wouldn't E*TRADE look good on the arm of Bank of America (NYS: BAC) or Citigroup (NYS: C) as a way to reach out to individual investors with a marquee brand and help offset some of the dependence on unpopular account fees?
Obviously, we can't judge E*TRADE's decision to remain independent based on a single month of trading activity. However, the discounter's stock is also nearing a two-year low. Something needs to happen to get the E*TRADE baby smiling again.
December, don't fail E*TRADE now.
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