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Trade-o-Rama

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OTTAWA (GlobeinvestorGOLD) ó If youíve ever thought about putting together a stock portfolio and are willing to do it in a whirlwind of activity, then E*Trade Canada has a deal for you.

On-line brokers often use offers of free trades to entice new customers, but E*Trade has taken this promotion to a whole new extreme. Instead of offering the usual 10 or so free trades, E*Trade is offering 100 for people who open accounts with $25,000 or more before Jan. 10.

Frankly, deals like this are usually just a come on. With all the fine print in place, it would be a surprise if people who qualified for free trades actually used all of what they were entitled too. Still, the E*Trade offer is so grandiose that itís at least worth a thought for two types of investors. The first are people who have the architectural plans in place for a stock portfolio that they have never got around to actually building, while the second are speculators who do a lot of short-term buying and selling.

Think about it. All youíd have to do is deposit a cheque with E*Trade and then go to town in buying the stocks you want at no cost. Even if you bought just 25 different stocks, youíd save at least $675 based on the brokerís current minimum commission of $26.99 (the minimum falls to $19.99 on Jan. 10, the lowest of any major broker). The catch: you have to complete your trades within 60 days of your account being opened. Obviously, you wonít have a lot of time for research and reflection in your stock buying.

One other catch is that youíll need the cash to pay for the trades in your account at the time your orders are placed. The reason is that E*Trade doesnít actually give you the trades for free. Rather, it rebates the cost of the trade back to you within 30 days of the order. Still another caveat: You can qualify for the rebates by transferring in $25,000 worth of assets from another account, but you wonít make the deadline because of the slow pace at which these kinds of transactions generally occur.

Switching in haste to an on-line broker offering a special time-limited deal can be a mistake that plagues you later on, when you realize you and the broker are not a good match and you have to undertake the hassle of switching to yet another firm. If youíre an active, speculative investor, youíll find that E*Trade caters toward your type with its Power E*Trade package of special services and reduced commissions. Donít sign up with E*Trade without seeing what direct access brokers offer, though. It may be that players like Interactive Brokers, DisnatDirect and Trade Freedom may me more attuned to your needs than E*Trade.

E*Trade Canada scored a second-best score in my most recent rating of on-line brokers behind BMO InvestorLine, so itís a very solid operation overall for mainstream investors (the rating is available to GlobeinvestorGold customers). One warning I would offer is that E*Trade is best for self-sufficient investors who donít need a lot of customer support. This has been a weak spot at E*Trade, although it has said it is beefing this part of its operation.

This article first appeared on GlobeinvestorGOLD.com. If you'd like to profit from the insight of more than 30 financial experts and columnists, including Rob Carrick — sign up for a free trial to GlobeinvestorGOLD.com.

© 2007 The Globe and Mail. All rights reserved.

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