Is there room for yet another electronic stock market?
Charles Schwab Corp., the biggest Internet broker, and Fidelity Investments, the No. 1 mutual fund company, joined two other securities firms Wednesday in announcing plans to launch an electronic network to enter the fastest-growing part of the stock-trading business.
The venture, whose partners also include online broker DLJDirect Inc. and market-maker Spear Leeds & Kellogg, will compete with rivals such as Island ECN, owned by Datek Online Holdings; Instinet, owned by Reuters Group; and TradeBook, owned by Bloomberg.
ECNs, or electronic communication networks, match investors' buy and sell orders rather than channeling them to Nasdaq dealers or the New York Stock Exchange. ECNs have taken an increasing share of Nasdaq trading--now about 30% of the total.
But the field is getting crowded. Dean Eberling, director of research for Putnam Lovell de Guardiola & Thornton, views the Schwab/Fidelity ECN as a "hedge" for its owners against ECNs' growing market share and a way to help pick a winner before an inevitable industry consolidation.
"The world can't support this much capacity" in ECNs, he said.