It’s nice to see high-techs jumping 30% a day again. I guess sanity has returned to the market.

Meanwhile, I promised you yesterday to be the first people on the planet to preview a new brokerage site. It went live at 6pm last night, Omaha time, with no advertising or fanfare, and you will find it at www.freetrade.com.

I take your time with this, as I said yesterday, not because I endorse Freetrade.com or recommend that you sign up, but because it is intriguing. And because, for a serendipitous reason explained below, you and I get first peak.

Here’s the background:

As many of you know, this column first appeared on what is now the Ameritrade web site. I did not endorse Ameritrade and they certainly did not endorse all the crazy things I wrote. But for three years they paid me handsomely and let me say any damn fool thing I wanted. (Such as: you’re nuts to buy and sell actively; just buy and hold — or stick with low-expense no-load mutual funds.)

I realized, in accepting the gig, that — for all my disclaimers — some people might in fact sign up with Ameritrade on the assumption that I had checked them out. But that was OK with me, because in fact I had checked them out and had been a satisfied customer for some time. The accounts were insured (not that anyone should relish the prospect of his broker going under, insurance or no). And the commission rate was a then unheard of $8 a trade. How wrong could you go at $8 a trade?

I did get some complaints over those three years from a handful of people who were not happy with Ameritrade. A few of them were substantive, but most were from people who were angry it took so long to open an account. They were not angry customers, in other words; they were angry it was taking so long to become customers.

Once my account was opened, way back when, my own experience has been fine. In some ways not as good as with a full-service broker; in some ways better. And, of course, much cheaper.

(I expect this might also have been the case with E*Trade or several of the other competitors.)

Anyway, after three years of lovely monthly checks, the gig was up. Yet I had come to enjoy writing this column, and getting to know some of you, and so I set it up on my own, with Ameritrade graciously allowing me to point readers this way.

Now the owners of Ameritrade are trying something new — Freetrade.

As you will see if you click over to the site, it is not for everyone.

But in reading through its introductory sections, you will see, I think, an admirable candor. And you may get a little better sense of how brokers make money.

Will Freetrade.com succeed? I’m not sure. I, for one, won’t sign up any time soon, because, among other things:

(a) For the kind of trading I do, the extra $8 a trade I now pay makes almost no difference. My trades tend to be relatively large and infrequent. Who cares, on a $25,000 trade, whether the commission is $0 or $8 or $13? (It does make me gulp when my full service broker charges $200 on the same trade — that’s real money.)

(b) I like to be able to indulge in vices that Freetrade.com does not yet offer — only very occasionally, when I am at my most self-destructive — like trading non-listed securities, shorting stocks and trading options.

(c) In case there are any bugs in this new system, I’m too old to be a guinea pig.

But it’s intriguing, because, among other things:

(a) I like doing everything by e-mail.

(b) I would love to see my account updated in “real time,” the instant I make a trade. And it would be fun to watch the progress of a trade from the moment I place the order, as if I were tracking a FedEx package.

For those of you who plan to build your own Personal Funds — and with relatively small positions where even an $8 commission on the way in and again on the way out mounts up — Freetrade.com could be a useful tool.

Anyway, the nice folks at Ameritrade wanted to find a way to get the word out to a relative few people, and so thought of me.

“Are you crazy?” I asked them. “After my columns on mining, I have only four readers left. Why don’t you call the Wall Street Journal? Why don’t you call Money?”

“Because we’re just feeling our way with this,” they said, “and don’t want to make too big a splash.”

Well, they have come to the right place.

 

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