Schwab's Profits Down 91% on Trading Drop

Leading online stock brokerage Charles Schwab Corp. said Tuesday that third-quarter profits fell 91 percent as customer trading activity fell to its lowest levels in nearly three years. 

The San Francisco-based company said Tuesday it earned $13 million, or 1 cent per share, in the period ended Sept. 30, down from a net income of $142 million, or 10 cents per share, at the same time last year. 

The company's revenue plunged 25 percent to $997 million, down from $1.32 billion at the same time last year. 

Schwab said it would have earned $81 million, or 6 cents per share, if not for one-time charges and other accounting items unrelated to its ongoing business. Most of the special charges stemmed from the Schwab's August decision to eliminate up to 2,400 jobs to offset the company's steep revenue losses. 

Excluding the special charges, Schwab's earnings beat by a penny the consensus estimate of analysts polled by Thomson Financial/First Call. 

Schwab's financial erosion reflects the stock market turbulence that has scared off many of the investors who fueled the company's rapid growth until this year's abrupt reversal in fortune. In the third quarter, Schwab's customer trading volume fell to its lowest levels since the fourth quarter of 1998, said co-CEO Charles Schwab. 

That falloff caused Schwab's third-quarter commissions to decrease by 42 percent from last year's comparable period. The company's principal transaction revenue suffered even more, declining by 57 percent from last year. 

Schwab attributed some of the lost business to the fallout from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, which shut down the stock market for four days. Customers appeared to be cautiously returning to the market this month, the company said. During the first 10 days of October, Schwab said its daily customer trades averaged 143,000, up slightly from early September. 

With its business slumping, Schwab is dismantling much of the expansion that it undertook in 1999 and 2000 to keep pace with rising customer demand. By the end of this year, Schwab expects to have about 20,000 workers -- about 25 percent fewer than at the beginning of the year. 

In the third quarter, the company reduced its operating expenses by 6 percent from the end of the second quarter. 

For the nine months ended Sept. 30, Schwab earned $212 million, or 15 cents per share, on revenue of $3.27 billion. In the year-ago period, Schwab earned $579 million, or 41 cents per share, on revenue of $4.45 billion. 

Schwab's shares gained 50 cents to $11.50 in trading Tuesday on the New York Stock Exchange.