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Market-Maker Revival Drives Profit Growth At Interactive Brokers

By Jacob Bunge Of DOW JONES NEWSWIRES Interactive Brokers Group Inc. (IBKR) on Thursday reported that first-quarter profits nearly quadrupled, beating expectations, as market turmoil produced the best conditions for its automated options-trading business in nearly two years. The electronic brokerage and market-maker also said it would initiate a 10 cent per share quarterly dividend to shareholders, lifting shares to a three-month high. "The environment for our market makers improved," Thomas Peterffy, founder and chief executive of Interactive Brokers, said on a conference call. The company reported $203.3 million in net income for the period, or 38 cents a share, above the $59.7 million, or 9 cents a share, recorded in the first quarter of 2010. Net revenues climbed 75% to $367.9 million and a currency shift added about $54 million in pre-tax earnings. Analysts had forecast earnings of 27 cents a share. Interactive Brokers shares were 3% higher in afternoon trading at $16.48. The Greenwich., Conn. company's business of standing ready to buy or sell options contracts via its automated market-making division Timber Hill swung to a profit for the quarter, another signal of revitalization in a sector that has been pressured by stagnant volumes and calmer market conditions. Knight Capital Group Inc. (KCG), one of the biggest market-makers in U.S. stocks, yesterday reported a 9.6% rise in quarterly profits. Peterffy has warned that Interactive Brokers could sharply curtail its market-maker role as the business has become pressured by high-frequency trading firms that operate with fewer restraints. On Thursday he said it would continue, though the first-quarter performance may not be sustainable over the long term. Interactive Brokers going forward will emphasize its brokerage segment, which depends upon market-making technology for handling orders, and saw a 20% rise in new accounts over the first quarter. "We are well on our way to reaching our goal for becoming the world's largest global online brokerage firm," Peterffy said, first by number of trades, then by profits and revenues. Interactive Brokers targets a more sophisticated client base than do other major online brokers such as TD Ameritrade Holdings Corp. (AMTD) and Charles Schwab Corp. (SCHW), according to Peterffy. Semi-professional traders and hedge fund clientele seen more attuned to the efficiency of trade-processing that is Interactive Brokers' selling point. Peterffy estimated that 107,000 of the company's 167,000 accounts represented hedge funds or proprietary traders. Interactive Brokers is preparing a new initiative in the coming months that will involve the firm working more closely with hedge fund clientele, Peterffy said Thursday. -By Jacob Bunge, Dow Jones Newswires; 312-750-4117; jacob.bunge@dowjones.com.

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