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Financial firms throw their weight behind the Web
By JIM BROOKS
Merrill Lynch, the nation's largest stock broker, shook up the financial world last week with its stunning announcement that it would offer online trading by the end of July.
The announcement is a white flag of sorts for the nation's trading powerhouses, which have publicly scorned online trading upstarts such as E*Trade and others.
The nation's top brokerage will offer trades at prices equal to Charles Schwab, the leading online broker, at $29.95.
Online trading firms have created a niche by offering customers lower commissions and fees, mostly by not having to build "bricks-and-mortar" retail locations to house their services.
And investors like to save money.
Industry watchers say that fully 25 percent of retail trading is done via the Internet. By some analysts' figures, the online trading industry has grown as much as 49 percent in the past quarter alone.
Clearly, the big brokers could no longer ignore the impact that Internet trading is having on Wall Street.
With Merrill's decision to offer online services, other brokers are being forced to develop or accelerate their Internet plans.
PAINEWEBBER NEXT. Two days after Merrill Lynch and Co. announced their entry into online trading, the PaineWebber Group, the nation's fifth-largest stock broker, announced it too would offer online trading later this year.
The company has had a pilot program under way now for some time.
PaineWebber's online stock sales won't be offered as a single service, but as part of a package, which includes advice. The company won't be joining a price war with other discount brokers.
Fees would be based not on the number of trades executed, but on the size of a portfolio's assets.
Salomon Smith Barney, the securities arm of financial services giant Citigroup Inc., has also announced its intentions to offer online trading later this year.
BANK ON E*TRADE. Online stock trading pioneer E*Trade moved last week to purchase Telebanc Financial Corp. in a deal worth $1.8 billion.
With Telebanc, E*Trade will be able to get into the online banking business -- a move seen as a natural expansion of the company into other financial areas.
Online banking will allow E*Trade to diversify its business, and also offer its stock trading customers some really nice services -- like the ability to pull your money out of the market and automatically have it deposited into and FDIC-protected account.
E*Trade will also be able to offer direct deposit and other traditional banking services.
All in all, it means E*Trade will be able to have more reasons for customers to keep their money flowing through their financial doors.
For more information, visit their Web site at www.etrade.com.
PARTS IS PARTS. My co-workers are probably getting tired of hearing me rave about the usefulness of the new e-commerce offering from retail giant Sears.
I haven't purchased a washer or dryer from them online -- yet -- but I've price compared some upright freezers (definitely more convenientr than driving to the store), and above it all, there's the Sears PartsDirect Web site.
Lost a knob, spring or grommet? Need a limit switch, wheel or basket for that dishwasher?
As a spouse saddled with home improvement chores from time to time, I can vouch for PartsDirect. Home mechanics and do-it-yourselfers will fall in love with it, and your spouse, significant other or landlord will sing your praises.
Imagine a catalog with 4 million parts and 70,000 detailed diagrams for more than 400 brands -- right at your fingertips. Friends, that's PartsDirect!
Here's a perfect example of how valuable PartsDirect can be.
The knob on my dishwasher was missing, gone to where ever vital parts disappear to. Until PartsDirect, I had decided a new knob would wait until I could "find time" to find a dealer to order the part for me (it's been missing for nearly a year).
A visit to their Web site, www.searspartsdirect.com, was all I needed to locate the part quickly, and with my credit card in hand, I had it ordered in minutes.
If you can't find your appliance part number or brand, PartsDirect offers toll-free assistance.
For additional information, visit them online as part of the Sears Web site, www.sears.com.
QUILTING TV. Some years ago, my elderly neighbor asked me to come over to her home and help her tighten up some clamps she couldn't quit adjust properly.
Once I arrived, I discovered my neighbor had this large wooden frame contraption standing in her living room. It was then that I discovered what a quilt frame was, and the labor of love that had been her passion for so many years.
Quilts of every pattern and description were folded carefully around her home. They were beautifully sewn and expertly arranged. It was just "something to pass the time," she told me then.
Quilting is a fascinating hobby, almost a lifestyle if you talk to those who enjoy it.
A new Web site unveiled this week as a companion to an upcoming public television highlights quilting's move from a necessity to art form.
While the site offers highlights of the August broadcast of the show, the site also gives educators and parents ways to use the site as an educational tool, complete with an online gallery of quilts, profiles of the quilters from the segment, and an entire section devoted to "Quilts in the Classroom."
A section highlighting other quilting sites on the Web nicely rounds out the site.
For more information, point your browser to www.pbs.org/americaquilts/.
Comments and questions about this column may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.myoldkentuckyhome.com on the World Wide Web.
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