E TRADE Financial Corporation (ETFC) Stock Is Counting on Investors

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As a major discount broker, E TRADE Financial Corporation (NASDAQ:ETFC) helps investors seek their fortune in the stock market. But for shareholders in E*TRADE stock to benefit, what they need is for investors to feel confident enough about the stock market's prospects that they open new brokerage accounts and make more stock trades. With its stock up of over 50% just since November, E TRADE Financial Corporation (NASDAQ:ETFC) is clearly counting on investor optimism to drive its financial results higher. Let's take a look at what's behind E*TRADE's big move.

E TRADE Financial Corporation (NASDAQ:ETFC)

The carnage of the market meltdown E TRADE Financial Corporation (NASDAQ:ETFC)'s past has been pretty ugly over the past several years, as the brokerage industry has suffered from the shell-shocked reaction that investors had following the financial crisis. Even as stock markets advanced, many investors remained on the sidelines, and that caused problems for players throughout the industry. As you can see below, peers Charles Schwab Corp (NYSE:SCHW) and TD Ameritrade Holding Corp. (NYSE:AMTD) have both joined E TRADE Financial Corporation (NASDAQ:ETFC) in lagging behind the performance of the broader market since mid-2009.

ETFC Total Return Price Chart

Brokers Total Return Price data by YCharts.

In addition to tepid levels of activity among investors, brokers also face the difficulty that low interest rates present. During ordinary times, brokers are able to make money from the cash balances their customers keep on hand. But with rates so low, Schwab, Vanguard, Fidelity, and other brokers have had to subsidize their money market funds, and while E*TRADE has largely turned to its banking subsidiary as a cash option for its customers, rates nevertheless affect its ability to profit as well.

What's especially hurting E*TRADE However, E TRADE Financial Corporation (NASDAQ:ETFC)'s stock price reflects even worse performance than that of its peers. In its most recent quarter, E*TRADE's revenue fell short of expectations, with a 5% drop in daily average revenue trades. The number of new brokerage accounts it opened fell by more than a third from the year-ago quarter. Monthly activity in April was equally weak, with daily average revenue trades falling 3% from the year-ago month. That's alarming news given the huge run-up the stock market has had, which ordinarily would have stoked greater enthusiasm already among potential and current customers.

That performance has led a vicious circle for the stock, as key investors have lost confidence in the company's ability to recover further. For instance, in March, Citadel Equity Fund sold off its nearly 10% stake in E*TRADE through a secondary offering, taking advantage of the recent jump in the stock to sell out.

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