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E*Trade starts venture capital fund

E*Trade says it is starting a $150 million venture capital fund targeted at investments in new trading technologies.

    With its growing prominence in the online trading sector, E*Trade today announced it is starting a $150 million venture capital fund targeted at investments in new trading technologies.

    Also, taking advantage of the company's surging stock prices, E*Trade's second-biggest investor pulled nearly half of its stake.

    "E*Trade plans to continue to expand its position in relevant emerging businesses and new technology platforms to ensure we achieve our long-term vision of global leadership in electronic personal financial service," said E*Trade chief executive Christos M. Cotsakos.

    Microsoft, Intel, and most recently Dell Computer, have started their own venture capital divisions to put their growing cash surplus to work.

    The company also appointed two new executives, tapping Thomas Bevilacqua to be executive vice president of corporate development and general counsel, and Stephen Richards as senior vice president of corporate development and new ventures.

    Bevilacqua, a partner of the San Francisco law firm of Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison, is a securities and corporate law expert in the areas of high-tech venture capital investments and mergers & acquisitions.

    Richards will oversee E*Trade's initiatives in Electronic Communications Networks (ECN) to maximize the value of the company's recent investments in the Archipelago ECN and International Securities Exchange (ISE), the first fully electronic options exchange. He will also evaluate other opportunities to integrate advanced electronic trading platforms into the company's global strategy.

    "These two appointments, as well as our new Venture Fund, are designed to further position E*Trade as an industry leader and innovator in advanced technologies and new emerging e-commerce markets," Cotsakos added.

    Taking advantage of E*Trade's surging stock, venture firm General Atlantic Partners sold 3.68 million shares for 56.05 to 57.32 a share, or more than $206 million, between February 2 and February 4. The venture firm still holds about 3.99 million shares, or a 3.5 percent stake, according to the Washington Service. It previously held a 7.7 percent stake at the end of 1998.

    Also riding the stock surge were E*Trade directors Richard Braddock and William Ford. Braddock, who is the chief executive of Priceline.com, which plans to go public soon, sold 260,680 shares at 48.13 to 60.94 per share.

    Ford, a partner at General Atlantic, sold his entire 48,000 share stake at 47 to 47.56 percent share.

    Shares of E*Trade rose 1.87 percent to 54.28 in early trading today. The stock has traded as high as 66.44 and as low as 5 during the past 52 weeks.

    Bloomberg contributed to this report.