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Speed or Comfort


									                     THE DOW JONES BUSINESS AND FINANCIAL WEEKLY                                         MARCH 7, 2005   $4.00

          The Best Online Brokers                                     OptionsXpress takes top honors—again
       —in our updated annual survey. Kudos for Interactive and Terra Nova, too. SUV versus sports-car brokers.

                  Speed or Comfort?
                        Our annual rankings find the best online brokers for either
                                                                (the following has been excerpted:)

       BY THERESA W. CAREY                          online brokers, three stars got you near                             In the browser category, optionsXpress
                                                    the top of the heap. Now, in our 10th sur-                        was followed by Ameritrade’s Apex

        HOOSING AN ONLINE BROKER IS A               vey, one browser-based broker and five                            ( and Fidelity In-
         lot like shopping for a car. If            software-based offerings each earned 4µ                           vestments ( Among
         you’re looking for good, all-              stars, double the number from last year.                          software-based competitors, Interactive
         around family transportation,                 In a remarkable display of consistency,                        narrowly beat Terra Nova Trading
you’ll naturally want to check out the lat-         optionsXpress, which took top honors in                           (, TradeStation
est SUVs. But if it’s power, speed and              2003 and 2004, did it again this year. The                        (,       thinkorswim
agility that you’re after, nothing will do          firm ( was easily                           ( and MB Trading
but a sports car.                                   the leading browser-based brokerage,                              (
   Recognizing the different ways that              and its margin of victory was greater                                We rated both types of brokers on such
Barron’s readers trade online, we’ve split          than that of the winner among the soft-                           considerations as the types of invest-
our annual ranking of online brokers into           ware-based brokers, Interactive Brokers                           ments that can be traded online, the qual-
two pieces. Investors planning to do some           (                                     ity of screeners that help you pick stocks,
basic trading—perhaps up to 10 trades a
month—will want to look at the browser-
based services, the SUVs of the field.                Star Power
They’re easy to use, come with useful                 rHere’s how the online brokers stack up in eight key areas. Barron’s awarded a maximum of five points
research tools and can be accessed from               for each category—and a maximum of five stars for the overall rating.
any computer with an Internet connec-                  BROWSER-BASED
                                                                                     Trade Trade              Range of             Portfolio Access/         Weighted    Star
tion. More active traders, by contrast,                Broker                      Execution Tech Usability   Offerings   Research Reports    Help   Costs    Total     Rating
should probably focus on the software-                 optionsXpress                 4.6    3.1      4.7        4.6         4.8      4.7      4.5     4.5     35.5      HHHHµ
based models—the sports cars. With                     Ameritrade (Apex)             3.8    3.0      4.0        4.2         4.2      4.4      3.7     3.5     30.8      HHHH
these, your computer, rather than the                  Fidelity Investments          3.8    3.6      3.8        4.6         4.5      3.7      4.3     2.2     30.5      HHHH
broker’s, crunches the numbers, and that               E*Trade - Power E*Trade       3.4    2.6      3.7        4.7         4.0      4.0      3.5     4.0     29.9      HHHH
makes it easier to customize the systems               Wall Street Electronica       4.0    3.7      3.6        4.5         2.8      3.7      3.0     4.2     29.5      HHHµ
to fit your own trading style.                         Muriel Siebert & Co.          3.5    2.3      3.6        4.3         4.3      4.2      4.5     2.5     29.2      HHHµ
   We’ve reviewed a total of 30 online bro-            Schwab Active Trader          3.9    2.6      3.5        4.5         4.3      4.3      3.9     2.2     29.2      HHHµ

kerage services this year—18 of the                    Schwab                        3.7    1.9      3.5        4.5         4.4      4.3      3.6     2.2     28.1      HHHµ
                                                       TD Waterhouse Trade Ctl.      4.1    1.8      3.7        4.6         3.6      3.5      3.6     3.2     28.1      HHHµ
browser-based variety and 12 based on

                                                                                                                                                                                  Illustrations: Bob Staake for Barron’s

                                                       E*Trade - Priority E*Trade    4.0    1.3      3.5        4.5         3.8      4.0      3.2     2.7     27.0      HHHµ
software. We put each one through the
                                                       Brown & Co.                   3.7    1.1      3.5        3.4         4.2      2.8      3.0     4.5     26.2      HHH
paces, measuring its capabilities and user-            Harrisdirect                  3.2    2.2      3.2        4.0         4.0      4.0      3.9     1.1     25.6      HHH
friendliness in eight different ways. We               Scottrade                     3.9    1.9      3.0        3.1         3.2      2.8      3.3     4.2     25.4      HHH
also spoke with top executives of many of              Firstrade                     3.3    0.9      2.8        3.8         2.1      3.8      3.0     4.2     23.9      HHH
the brokerages. In the end, we assigned                TD Waterhouse                 3.5    0.3      2.4        3.6         3.0      2.7      3.6     2.2     21.3      HHµ
each offering a star rating of one to five.            Freetrade by Ameritrade       2.7    0.7      2.0        2.5         2.1      3.0      2.5     4.2     19.7      HHµ
   The overarching conclusion: Online-bro-             Foliofn                       1.7    2.2      2.0        1.3         1.8      3.0      2.4     4.0     18.4      HH
kerage services, as a group, are better                WellsTrade                    2.3    0.7      2.5        3.1         3.3      2.0      2.9     1.2     18.0      HH
than ever. Back when we started ranking
                                                                                                                                                                  (over please)

    Custom Reprints (609)520-4331 P.O. Box 300 Princeton, N.J. 08543-0300. DO NOT EDIT OR ALTER REPRINTS ● REPRODUCTIONS NOT PERMITTED #28965

options or mutual funds, the usability of         We broke the points awarded into sev-     provisions to enter multiple orders on one
the trading screens and a site’s ability to eral sub-categories, such as quality of the     screen; and the ability to create baskets
be customized. We also examined the trading screen, design of order-entry                   of stocks.
types of reports that the brokerages send screens for stocks and other types of                Among the browser-based brokers,
to users, including printed monthly state- investments and accessibility of order-          optionsXpress has the most flexible
ments.                                         status reports.                              order-entry system. Its customers make
   Based on input from about 150 Bar-             MB Trading, thinkorswim, and options-     extensive use of these conditional orders
ron’s readers, we tweaked many of the Xpress had particularly well-designed                 and order triggers. Preferred Trade,
criteria and added an all-new rating mea- order-entry screens, including the ability        Terra Nova Trading, TradeStation and
sure—trading technology. For each of the to cancel and replace a previously entered         Wall Street Electronica also allow their

eight measures, we assigned a point value order. Rushtrade, meanwhile, does a               customers to set up conditional orders,

ranging from a                                                     great job of linking     and even to define when those triggers
low of zero to a                                                   from your existing       will expire.
high of five and            “In a remarkable display of            holdings to a sell          As with trade experience, the overall
then, for brows-                                                   order, and pre- fills    technology category was given an addi-
er- based brok-          consistency, optionsXpress, which         the order ticket with    tional 50% weighting for software-based
ers, added up          took top honors in 2003 and 2004,           the number of shares     brokers.
those     points.                                                  you currently own—a         Usability: How easy was it to navigate
For the soft-             did it again this year. The firm         key    factor     that   around the site? Does the layout of the
ware-based bro- ( was easily the should help cus-                     site make sense and minimize the number
kers, we as-                                                       tomers avoid an inad-    of mouse clicks it takes to get from one
signed varying          leading browser-based brokerage.”          vertent short sale.      place to another? The key theme in this
importance to                                                         An overall score of   category is ease of use. We also looked at
each measure,                                                      five in trade execu-     the ability to personalize each broker’s
based on feedback from our readers, and tion means the order entry- and-execution           site. For example, can the welcome screen
created weighted totals. We performed all process flowed easily from one step to the        be customized? Can portfolio-analysis re-
our analyses with an eye to handling an next, with real-time information available          ports be altered to show items of impor-
online portfolio of about $100,000.            when needed. For software-based bro-         tance to the individual investor?
   So, which type of online service is best kers, 50% was added to this score for the          A rating of five in this category means
for you—an SUV or a sports car? If you weighted total, to emphasize the need for            the site is easy to use and well-designed,
trade for long stretches at a time from a well-designed and informative order-              doesn’t bog down when moving from
single location and are willing to put in entry screens when trading quickly.               screen to screen, and can be tailored to
the time to customize the platform to your        Trading technology: The availability of   display what the user wants to see. The
trading style, you’re a candidate for a price-improvement strategies and smart-             weighting was cut by 50% for software-
software-based broker. But if you pop order routing technology, and the absence             based brokers, because their users are
into your portfolio just a few times a of internalized orders (trades in which the          likely to invest the time it takes to climb
week, you may find that the work of run- broker takes the other side), are neces-           up the learning curve.
ning a direct-access application isn’t sary to earn a five in this new category.               Once again, site design is an area where
worth the time.                                A broker offering price improvement—a        optionsXpress shines. ChoiceTrade,
   Here are the gauges we used:                sale above the bid price or a buy below      RushTrade and Terra Nova Trading are
   Trade Execution: Readers have told the offer—for limit orders received a half            among the easiest of the software-based
us to focus on the process of placing and point. A broker that has smart-order              brokers to navigate and to personalize.
confirming trades, which can be done only routing technology in place earns a half             Range of Offerings: We awarded
by working with a live account. We looked point. A broker that internalizes order           points for the range of investments that
for smart order-routing technology, which flow for more than 25% of nondirected             can be traded online, with partial points
finds the best bid or offer, and price orders loses up to a half point.                     given for those that can be traded only
improvement on limit orders, or purchas- Many readers have told                             offline. Since all the brokers allow you to
es or sales at specified prices.               Barron’s that they want                                               buy stocks as well as
   We executed equity trades during mar- to avoid brokers that                                                      sell them short, we
ket hours, making market buys and limit internalize orders be-                                                     award only a half point
sales of a Nasdaq stock or an exchange- cause the orders don’t                                                   for that capability.
traded fund. After the market buy, we get the benefit of the                                                     Regular options trading,
evaluated the execution and portfolio market. Brokers that                                                      complex options trading
reports. After entering the limit-sell refused to answer                                                       and mutual-fund avail-
order, we examined the open-order whether they inter-                                                         ability each were good for
reports and looked at ways for the trad- nalized orders were                                                 a full point. The avail-
er to follow the progress of the order, as assumed to do so.                                                ability of futures and com-
well as ways to adjust the limit price or         We also looked at                                      modities trading was also con-
cancel the order outright.                     the range of order                                        sidered. A five in this catego-
   This year, we placed options orders as types available, such                                          ry means you can execute all
well, and looked at order- entry screens as trailing stops and                                           of these transactions online.
for complex options trades, or simultane- conditional orders; the                                           E*Trade’s Power E*Trade
ous trades of more than one option. We option for customers to                                            offering ranks highly in this
also examined the order-entry screens for route their own orders;                                          category, missing a perfect
mutual-funds, bonds, and, when available, the ability to custom-                                             five only because of the
futures and currencies.                        ize trading screens;                                               limitations placed on

complex options order-entry. Fidelity                                       the rest of the site; and the availability of                                   kers for their performance calculations,
Investments, Schwab, and optionsXpress                                      screeners, with emphasis on options-                                            letting you know what you did right—and
also make a wide variety of investing                                       strategy screeners.                                                             wrong.
alternatives available online.                                                 Brokers also won points for offering                                            However, the weighting in this cate-
   We reduced the weighting in this cate-                                   real-time streaming quotes at no addi-                                          gory was trimmed by 50% for software-
gory by half for software-based brokers,                                    tional cost, powerful charting capabilities                                     based brokers, because many frequent
since frequent traders usually focus on                                     and Level II Nasdaq quote accessibility.                                        traders say they use other applications to
equity and options, and then added four                                     Software-based TradeStation shines when                                         analyze portfolio performance.
criteria—trend-analysis capability, the                                     it comes to technical analysis, while                                              Customer Access and Help: There
ability to enter trades that will be exe-                                   optionsXpress does the job best for Web-                                        comes a time for many online traders
cuted automatically, the ability to develop                                 based brokers.                                                                  when the best hope is to click the Help
a trading system and apply it, and                                             Portfolio Analysis and Reports: The                                          button. So we sized up online help such as
whether the broker’s fees are assessed on                                   emphasis here is on clearly written re-                                         live-chat capability, user guides and fre-
a per-share basis rather than per-trade.                                    ports, updated in real time, showing cur-                                       quently-asked- question files. Offline help
   Research Amenities: This category                                        rent balances, positions and margin sta-                                        was assessed by making calls to customer
measures the quality and accessibility of                                   tus. Portfolio-analysis reports, with links                                     service. We also evaluated the availability
research, quotes and charting. The high-                                    to news and research, as well as extensive                                      of education in investing and trading.
est points in this category went to bro-                                    transaction history, are most desirable.                                           This category also takes stock of bro-
kers giving exceptional research and                                        We also favor systems that track the tax                                        kers’ wireless-trading access and provi-
quote services. We evaluated the research                                   consequence of each trade and deliver                                           sions for allowing online cash transfers
amenities available to those with more                                      thorough tax reports, including records of                                      into and out of an account.
than $100,000 in their accounts, or who                                     past transactions.                                                                 Though the quality of the printed state-
traded 36 times a year or more.                                                We got pickier this year when evaluat-                                       ment is an important criterion, few bro-
   We looked for research, news and                                         ing reports, and specifically looked for the                                    kers scored well here; most statement
charting linked to customers’ portfolio                                     ability to customize real-time data. Both                                       formats are abysmal and don’t add to the
and watch lists; the availability of third-                                 thinkorswim and Terra Nova Trading                                              customer’s knowledge base. There’s room
party research and its integration with                                     stand out among the software-based bro-                                         for improvement for every broker on the

 What’s on the Menu?
rHere are the main services offfered by each online broker. Check Websites for details. For mutual funds, NL means no-load
and NTF means no transaction fees. For bonds, C means corporates, T means Treasuries and M mean municipals.
 BROWSER-BASED               Smart    Customer-                Number of                                                                                                                               Account              Interest Paid
                             Order     Directed    Execution    Mutual                                                                        Commissions                    Margin Rate              Maintenance          On $25K Cash
 Broker name                Routing   Routing?     Guarantee     Funds        Bonds        Options     Futures       International   Market     Limit       Options   $25K Balance $50K Balance           Fee             Balance (taxable)
 Ameritrade (Apex)            Yes         Yes        Yes         13,264     Live Broker     Yes           No             No          $10.99   $10.99        $25.99       6.25%      5.75%         $15/quarter if under      0.40%                                            (3,921 NL)                                                                                                                         $2,000 or fewer than
 888-871-9007                                                                                                                                                                                     4 trades in 6 months.
 Brown & Co.                  No          No         No           7,000     Live Broker     Yes           No             No          $5.00    $10.00        $20.00       5.25%      4.75%                 None              0.65%                                               (2,000 NL,
 800-822-2021                                                   700 NTF)
 E*Trade (Priority E*Trade) Yes        Via Live      Yes         6,361        C, T, M       Yes          Yes            Yes          $11.99   $11.99        $26.99       8.99%      7.99%                 None              1.26%                 Broker                 (1,685 NL,
 888-387-2336                                                  5,788 NTF)
 Fidelity Investments         Yes         Yes        Yes         4,592        C, T, M       Yes           No          Equities       $10.95   $10.95        $47.50       7.33%      6.83%            $50/year if under   1.50%                     (in Active               (2,575 NL,                                              Only                                                                       $25,000 or fewer than
 800-343-3548                        Trader Pro)               1,247 NTF)                                                                                                                         2 trades in 12 months.
 Firstrade                    No          No         Yes          9,578       C, T, M       Yes           No             No          $6.95     $6.95        $19.45       7.00%      6.75%                  None          1.36%                                             (1,058 NL,
 800-869-8800                                                   689 NTF)
 Foliofn                      No          No         No            750          No           No           No             No          $3.95     $3.95          NA           NA         NA            $14.95/quarter if       1.56%                                                 (all NL                                                                                                                           fewer than 3 trades
 888-973-7890                                                      NTF)                                                                                                                              in prior quarter.
 Freetrade by Ameritrade      Yes         No         No          13,264         No          Yes           No             No          $0.00     $0.00        $25.50       6.00%      5.75%                  None             0.40%                                             (3,921 NL)
 Harrisdirect                 Yes         Yes        No          10,800      C, T, M        Yes           No             No          $19.95   $19.95        $36.45       7.00%      6.50%          $15/quarter if under 1.51%      (through    (through                (2,100 NL,                                                                                                                         $10,000 or fewer than
 800-825-5723              software) software)                  850 NTF)                                                                                                                          4 trades in 12 months.
 Merrill Lynch Direct         Yes      Via Live      No           3,500      C, T, M        Yes           No             No          $29.95   $29.95        $35-$64      8.00%      8.00%          $25/quarter if under 0.40%                    Broker                  (500 NL,                                                                                                                          $25,000 or fewer than
 877-653-4732                                                    all NTF)                                                                                                                         2 trades in 6 months.
 Muriel Siebert & Co.         Yes      Via Live      No          12,973    Indications      Yes           No          Via live       $14.95   $14.95        $58.50       5.00%      5.00%                  None          1.57%                     Broker                 (4,388 NL, online, orders                              broker
 800-872-0711                                                  1,335 NTF)   via broker
 optionsXpress                Yes         Yes        Yes         10,000      C, T, M        Yes           No             No          $9.95     $9.95        $15.00       5.75%      5.00%                 None              1.28%                                         (5,400 NL)
 Schwab                       Yes         No         Yes          5,000       C, T, M       Yes         Through    Live Broker       $12.95   $12.95        $23.95       7.50%      6.50%           $30-$45/quarter         0.5%-1.92%                                                (4,700 NL,                               partner        and                                                                            for accounts
 800-435-4000                                                  4,000 NTF)                            Lind-Waldock Lind-Waldock                                                                       under $25,000
 Scottrade                    No          No         No           8,917       C, T, M       Yes           No           No            $7.00     $7.00        $19.50       7.00%      6.25%                 None              0.85%                                             (2,762 NL,
 800-619-7283                                                   871 NTF)
 TD Waterhouse                No          No         No          11,700       C, T, M       Yes          Yes            Yes          $11.95   $14.95        $29.45       7.25%      6.75%          $25/quarter if under 1.70%                                          (2,900 NL,                                                                                                                         $25,000 or fewer than
 800-839-2837                                                  1,364 NTF)                                                                                                                         2 trades in 6 months.
 TD Waterhouse Trade Ctl.     No          Yes        No          11,700       C, T, M       Yes          Yes            Yes          $9.95     $9.95        $22.45       7.25%      6.75%            None, but must     1.70%                                          (2,900 NL,                                                                                                                            trade 30 times/
 1-800-934-4448                                                1,364 NTF)                                                                                                                            month to qualify.
 Wall Street Electronica      Yes         Yes        Yes         15,000       C, T, M       Yes           No         Live Broker     $9.99     $9.99         27.50       5.75%      4.25%                 None          1.42%                                           (2,000 NL,
 888-925-5783                                                  1,500 NTF)
 WellsTrade                   No          No         No           9,000     Live Broker     Yes           No             No          $19.95   $19.95        Min $40      6.75%      6.25%         $15/quarter for under 1.42%                                            (2,500 NL,                                                                                                                         $20,000 or fewer than
 800-872-3377                                                   900 NTF)                                                                                                                          2 trades in 6 months.

list, which is disappointing since this is   test-drove the sites, but also mailed ques-   The toolbar allows you to go anywhere in
the second year we’ve evaluated the          tionnaires to all of them. The universe of    the site in one or two clicks. The firm has
printed statements and we found little       sites was somewhat smaller than last          also added online seminars, bolstering
change from last year.                       year’s because several of the 2004 offer-     already-impressive education content that
   Overall, the weighting in this category   ings are no longer available. Merrill         includes the Xpress Guides, which are
was reduced by 50% for software-based        Lynch Direct, meanwhile, wouldn’t pro-        short explanations of available features,
brokers, because frequent traders put        vide us with a test account and thus was      and financial literacy content from guide
greater emphasis on costs and technology     left out of the ranking. A rundown on the     publisher Lightbulb Press.
than on hand holding.                        sites that we tested:                            As well, OptionsXpress’ tax center has
   Muriel Siebert’s online offering ranks                                                  been augmented, and the capabilities of
highly for customer access and help as a     Browser-Based Brokers                         the Strategy Scan, which recommends
result of personalized service, especially                                                 options-trading strategies based on mar-
to high- balance account holders and           It’s hard to compare the total scores       ket conditions and user preferences, have
those placing large block trades. Terra      for the top software-based broker to          been expanded. The firm aims to exploit
Nova Trading gives its customers numer-      those of the top browser-based broker,        liquidity pools wherever they can be

ous educational opportunities, most of       since there are additional factors added      found, and has interwoven its own X-
which result in discounts or trading         to the broker scores and different weight-

                                                                                           spread opportunities into the quote
rebates.                                     ings. However, optionsXpress firmly           screens. Open-order screens for multi-leg
   Costs: We looked at commissions for       leads the browser rankings, well ahead of     orders are well- designed and informa-
stock and options trades and margin          the runners-up. This brokerage keeps          tive.
interest rates, assigning higher points to   evolving and adding tools and other good-
                                                                                              If you don’t yet have an OptionsXpress
lower costs. We looked at the cost of        ies at a pace that is unimaginable at other
                                                                                           account but want to try out the site’s
three round-trip stock trades, assuming      brokerages, mainly because its back-end
one side of the trade was at market and      technology is so flexible.                    functionality, you can open a Virtual
one side was a limit order. Stock com-         Currently being rolled out is the           Trading account and see how it all works.
missions are the biggest factor here. We     optionsXpress toolbar, which is a brows-      There are no fees for Virtual Trading,
also checked the cost of trading 10          er add-on that keeps you logged in even       but OptionsXpress president David Kalt
options contracts at a $5 premium; mar-                              when you go to        believes his customers are using it to try
gin interest rates on balances of $25,000                                 a n o t h e r    out new functionality before they make
to $50,000; charges for small or inactive                                    Website.      actual trades.
accounts; and platform charges for                                              Users
software-based brokers.                                                           c a n    Polishing the Crystal Ball
   A rating of five in this category
could be earned by a broker with                                                              What’s ahead for online brokers—and
stock commissions of under $50 in                                                          for you, their customers? Enhanced
total for three round trips, of                                                            options and derivative trading is being
under $25 for 10 options con-                                                              rolled out at most brokers, and the recent
tracts, margin interest rates                                                              wave of price cuts has brought out the
below 4.5% and no account-main-                                                            bargain hunters. We expect to see prices
tenance fees. Readers told us that                                                         in the $15-to-$25 per-trade range start to
costs are much more important to                                                           fall as the firms seek to prevent an exo-
them this year, so we didn’t trim                                                          dus of customers to brokers charging in
the weighting of this category for                                                         the $5-to-$10 range. Most of the brokers
browser-based brokers. For the fre-                                                         focusing on active traders expect in-
quent traders who use software-based                                                         creased competition, escalating the com-
brokers, costs are even more impor-                                                           mission price wars. The skirmishing so
tant, so we doubled the weighting.                                                             far has not established any new price
   The only five in this category was                                                           points in the industry. But we’re see-
earned by Interactive Brokers,                                                                   ing brokerages take a closer look at
which has rock-bottom fees and no                                                                 their customer base and modify
platform charges. The firm asks                                                                    their products to lure assets as
you to generate a minimum of $10                                                                    well as trades.
per month in transaction fees.
                                                                                                       With more options trading,
   While each service ultimately
was given an overall score                                                                           many brokers are working to
reflecting all eight measures,                                                                       ensure accurate, timely option
those totals alone may not point to                                                                 quotes, as well as the availability
the right broker for you. If you’re                                                                 of back-up trading avenues.
interested in particular aspects of                                                                What’s certain is that online bro-
online trading, such as the best exe-                                                             kerages are scrambling harder than
cution at the cheapest price, and don’t                                                         ever before to attract affluent and
care so much about the availability of                                                        active traders. For them, it’s likely to
mutual funds or bonds, consult the scores                                                  mean squeezed profit margins and fur-
for those categories and find your own       cus-                                          ther industry consolidation. For you, it’s
personal five-star broker.                   tomize it to                                  apt to bring enhanced services at better
   In sizing up each broker, we not only     display quotes, news, and other features.     prices. So, here’s to competition! n


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