NEW YORK – Morgan Stanley, the investment bank for millionaires, big business and megamergers, is buying E-Trade Financial, the online brokerage that encouraged waves of regular investors to get into the market with ads featuring its talking spokesbaby.
The roughly $13 billion, all-stock deal would be one of the biggest deals on Wall Street since the financial crisis more than a decade ago, and it would mark the latest chapter in Morgan Stanley's transformation from a scrappy, deal-doing, stock-trading investment bank to a more well-rounded financial firm more reliant on its asset and wealth management businesses.
E-Trade will bring with it 5.2 million client accounts, $360 billion in retail client assets and a pool of customers who may become wealthier and use more of Morgan Stanley's full-service offerings. Morgan Stanley has 3 million client relationships and $2.7 trillion in client assets.
The deal also gives E-Trade some shelter during a time of massive disruption in the retail brokerage industry.
Its rivals Charles Schwab and TD Ameritrade are in the midst of their own merger, and the industry is still absorbing the latest blows from its price war. Brokerages have made it free to trade U.S. stocks and exchange-traded funds online, slashing their commissions to zero in hopes of attracting and keeping customers.
Brokerages still make money from account fees and interest earned on customers' cash, but the price war has hurt revenues.
“Between zero trading commissions and competitive yielding savings accounts and cash management products, the competition for consumers' cash and investments is as fierce as ever,” said Greg McBride, chief financial analyst for Bankrate.com. “And this reaches a broad spectrum of households, it isn't just the ultra-wealthy that are in demand.”
Industry analysts believe the complementary parts of Morgan Stanley and E-Trade make them a good fit, and E-Trade's stocks surged 21.8% for the biggest gain in the S&P 500 index Thursday. But Morgan Stanley's stockfell 4.5%, reflecting investors' concerns that it may be paying too high a price.