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MERRILL LYNCH TO HOOK UP WITH ON-LINE TRADING.

Byline: Andrew Fraser Associated Press

The nation's biggest brokerage firm plans to allow its customers to make trades over the Internet by next year, underscoring the growing popularity and significance of electronic trading to the securities industry.

The decision by Merrill Lynch & Co., which had seemed cool to letting its clients buy and sell stocks on line, is an apparent attempt by the full-service broker to keep pace with technology and remain competitive with other firms that allow automated trading.

``It's something they have been trying to convince themselves that their customers don't want,'' said Julio Gomez, a senior analyst at Forrester Inc., a research firm at Cambridge, Mass. ``Now they are forced to formulate a strategy.''

Internet transactions, which by some estimates are expected to account for nearly $500 billion in annual trades within the next five years, is dominated by discount brokerages such as Charles Schwab & Co. and E Trade Group.

Analysts said the decision by Merrill Lynch was inevitable. Full-service brokers want to avoid losing business to discount brokerages as investors become more comfortable with interactive investing and it accelerates. But Merrill Lynch downplayed the significance of its move.

Randal Langdon, director of Merrill's interactive business, said Internet trading was just another feature in on-line services the company launched in September 1996. Those services allow clients to view their accounts, access market research and communicate with their brokers.

Merrill will join Dean Witter Discover & Co. among the first full-service firms in the Internet trading game.
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Title Annotation:BUSINESS
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 4, 1997
Words:248
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