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Ameritrade to diversify with NDB buy

The online brokerage plans to purchase National Discount Brokers in a $154 million stock deal, in an effort to gain customers amid tough times.

In an effort to gain customers amid tough times on Wall Street, online brokerage Ameritrade said Tuesday it would buy National Discount Brokers in a stock deal valued at $154 million.

Ameritrade said the deal will add to earnings and boost its customer base by 20 percent, or 316,000 accounts. National Discount Brokers is a unit of Deutsche Bank.

Ameritrade said the acquisition will boost its revenue by $67 million and allow the brokerage to add employee stock-option accounts. In other areas, the NDB purchase is expected to bring $6.3 billion in client assets and 9,000 additional trades per day to Ameritrade, the companies said.

The acquisition of NDB is Ameritrade's latest move to boost its operating results. The company, which will issue between 21 million and 32 million shares to pay for NDB, broke even in its fiscal third quarter on sales of $112.6 million, but warned that revenue in the fourth quarter would decline as much as 26 percent. The company is expected to break even in the fourth quarter too, according to First Call.

Ameritrade revamped its organization last month to boost profitability.

Online brokers have been struggling as Nasdaq trading volume has fallen and investors have curbed frequent trading following the meltdown of dot-com stocks.

The trading slowdown has sparked a round of cost-cutting at key online brokers. Ameritrade, CSFBdirect, Charles Schwab, Datek, and NDB have all announced layoffs.

On Monday, discount brokerage TD Waterhouse said it would cut 9 percent of its work force and shut down several branches. Those layoffs are in addition to an 18 percent announced earlier.

TD Waterhouse also noted that "investor activity has continued to deteriorate."

And, until things pick up, you can expect more layoffs and mergers like the Ameritrade-NDB deal. "The longer the tough times continue, the more likely we will see substantial consolidation," said Gregory W. Smith, an analyst at J.P. Morgan.