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E*Trade To Offer On-Line Forex Trading In Hong Kong

by Mary Swire,, Hong Kong

04 September 2003

Like US rival Charles Schwab, E*Trade backed away from offering on-line trading of local shares for Hong Kong investors, although both firms continue to offer trading in US stocks in the SAR. E*Trade terminated its retail stock trading service in Hong Kong on July 16 as part of a 'corporate refocusing exercise'.

Now E*Trade says it will offer on-line foreign exchange trading in Hong Kong, and is in discussions with the Securities and Futures Commission over a licence. The service will probably be launched late this year or early next year.

E*Trade , based in Menlo Park, Calif., was founded in the early 1980s, but it didn't come to prominence until the sudden boom in on-line stock trading in the late 1990s. During the dot-com mania, E*Trade was one of the highest profile stocks, crashing to earth along with other Internet companies in 2000.

Now, however, E*Trade is a financial services company, and is coming to resemble a bank more than a trading brokerage, with 700,000 US banking accounts and US$70bn in assets. Mitchell Caplan, E*Trade's new CEO, told a recent Board meeting: "We are not a media company or a dot-com company or all that other bull- stuff, we are a financial-services company."

E*Trade expanded aggressively outside the US, and still retains operations in a number of world-wide locations, including the UK, Australia, Germany, South Korea and Japan as well as Hong Kong. Results from these outposts have not been encouraging, however, and the company presumably sees them as a basis for banking expansion rather than as trading operations.

In offering foreign exchange facilities in Hong Kong, E*Trade has its eyes on the expected boom in mainland Chinese financial services, once Beijing starts to loosen controls over banking and its currency markets.

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