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Ameritrade says it is not for sale

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) _ Online brokerage Ameritrade Holding Corp. said Thursday that it is not for sale, sending its shares down nearly 5 percent in early trading.

The announcement followed recent published reports that it had received an unsolicited bid from rival E-Trade Financial Corp.

Omaha-based Ameritrade said its board met Wednesday and confirmed its support for the firm's growth strategy.

``The board believes there will likely be further consolidation in the industry, but confirmed Ameritrade is not for sale,'' said Joe Ricketts, founder and chairman, in a news release.

Ameritrade shares fell 66 cents, or 4.8 percent, to $13.10 in morning trading on the Nasdaqw Stock Market, where it has traded in a range of $9.75 to $14.61.

Citing unnamed sources, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal have reported that E-Trade Financial made a bid to buy Ameritrade for more than $5.5 billion.

E-Trade spokeswoman Pamela Erickson said Thursday she could not comment on any bid her company may have made for Ameritrade and said E-Trade would have no immediate comment on Ameritrade's announcement.

Ameritrade spokeswoman Katrina Becker also declined comment on whether such a bid had been made. Becker also declined to comment on reports that Ameritrade has been holding negotiations to buy a third brokerage, TD Waterhouse.

Asked why Ameritrade issued its statement Thursday, Becker said, ``We're letting the industry know we are not for sale.''

Becker also declined to comment on a Journal report Thursday that Ricketts wants to substantially increase his 30 percent stake in Ameritrade.

The Journal also reported that under an agreement struck in 2002, when Ameritrade acquired Datek Online Holdings Corp., Ricketts agreed to vote with the majority of the board should it decide to merge or sell. Becker declined to comment on that report as well.

Analysts have said a desire to cut costs amid falling trading volumes could be driving merger attempts in the online brokerage industry.

Ameritrade chief executive Joe Moglia said in the company's news release Thursday that Ameritrade has been involved with seven merger and acquisition deals in the past four years.

``Ameritrade is a leader in consolidating this industry,'' Moglia said. ``We will continue to explore strategic opportunities, basing our decisions on whether a transaction will enhance shareholder value and benefit our clients.''
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