E*Trade Powers Up

E*TRADE LAST WEEK UNVEILED the most extensive overhaul of its downloadable trading platform, Power E*Trade Pro, since its launch in 2000.

Chris Larkin, the firm’s senior vice president of the U.S. retail brokerage, says the older version will be phased out around the middle of January. Until then, E*Trade (http://www.etrade.com) customers have the option of using either system.

Among the changes: Instead of the column of icons down the left side of the screen, the various major functions are displayed in a horizontal line across the top. You can alter the size of the icons, switch the order in which they appear, and delete the ones you don’t use.

Larsen says that the developers were very mindful of the use of real estate on customers’ screens, and added tools for those with multiple monitors. Like many other downloadable platforms, Power E*Trade Pro is made up of a montage of windows that you can arrange to your liking on your screen. With the update, you can “tear off” any window—for example, the charting application—and move it to a second monitor. Many frequent traders these days use multiple monitors to track quotes and technical charts, or to view stock data on one screen and options data on another. This capability is simpler in the new version.

Once you you start up Power E*Trade Pro, you will see the default display on the top right. Then you can add or delete indexes and set the scroll rate so that it changes at a pace that’s comfortable for you. A new feature called the Ticker shows your trades in the symbols you want to see, either from a watch list or your current portfolio (or both). The Ticker can be set up to display real-time quotes or streaming news headlines; when you click on a headline, a box opens containing the complete story.

The Options functionality has also been updated so that the new options symbols, which will be introduced in February 2010, are fully supported.

“We’re doing a lot to get our customers prepared for the new options symbology,” Larsen says.

Starting Jan. 1, the platform will include a video player showing CNBC Plus over a live feed. This feature will be free to all customers, and will include archived videos. Larsen says the firm plans to grow the video player within the platform, and that E*Trade will add educational programs to the playlist over the next year.

“As traders are taking a break throughout the day they can watch a video. We plan to add a lot of educational videos with this new player,” he says.

Larsen explains that the platform also attempts to embrace the outside world. In the past, he notes, “The question was, ‘How do we get them to come to E*Trade and stay on our site and not leave?’ The world is changing, so we’re adding the outside world to our platform.” If you find an RSS news feed that you want to follow, you can drag and drop it onto the news page in Power E*Trade Pro.

I found the changes make the platform much easier to navigate and customize. The new version is even a smaller download—14.5MB instead of the 19MB of the older version. Also, Mac users will be pleased to hear that the new version runs on their systems; many downloadable trading applications do not.

THE E*TRADE UPDATE
is just one of many innovations we expect to see at online brokers’ Websites and in software downloads in the next couple of months, as Barron’s gears up for its March 2010 ranking of online offerings for retail traders and investors.

Your comments help us adjust our ratings system from year to year and are extremely helpful. Has your trading behavior changed in 2009? What tools would you like to see your broker offer? What do you like and dislike about your current online broker? What key functionality or service could a different broker offer to entice you to open another account—or switch brokers completely?

If you’ve been using an online brokerage account over the last year, please drop us a line at electronicinvestor@yahoo.com with your comments.

TRADEKING’S (http://www.tradeking.com) Chairman and CEO Don Montanaro last week issued a strong statement against a new Congressional bill, H.R. 4191, which goes by the title “Let Wall Street Pay for the Restoration of Main Street Act of 2009”.

Under the proposed bill, a new fee would add 3[frac12] cents per share to the cost of placing a trade, and Montanaro thinks it’s unlikely that the brokers will just eat the cost and lower their own profits. The bill amends the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to impose a tax on stock, futures, options and credit-default-swap transactions, and is intended to fund job creation and deficit reduction following the recent financial crisis.

“It is understandable that American taxpayers and their representatives are angry and distrustful of our financial institutions, given the economic struggles of the past year, high unemployment rates, and the taxpayers footing the bill for the bailout,” says Montanaro. “But we believe this proposed transaction tax will end up doing more harm than good to more of our citizens than is purported by the bill’s supporters.”

OPTIONS FEES HAVE NOWHERE to go but up. U.S. options trades take place on seven major exchanges. Three of them—The Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE.org, CBOE.com), International Securities Exchange (http://www.ise.com) and Boston Options Exchange (http://www.bostonoptions.com)—have recently filed for fee increases that will kick in during 2010. These fee structures are quite complex, but will result in higher fees paid by brokerages to conduct trades.

Firms that have had relatively low fees for options trading will most likely have to raise their rates just to maintain some kind of profit margin. I imagine the firms that have charged higher commissions will just go ahead and absorb the increased exchange fees.

Wade Cooperman, CEO of tradeMonster (http://www.trademonster.com), says, “We are increasingly concerned the rising exchange fees will lead to retail investors seeing their cost of trading increase.”

Posted by on 01/02 at 02:29 AM

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