In a bid to expand internationally, E-Trade Group, a Palo Alto, Calif.- based on-line securities trading operation, last week signed licensing agreements with two German financial services firms.

Though E-Trade did not disclose terms, a source said it has taken stakes of 25% to 30% in Berliner Freiverkehr in Berlin and New York Broker Group in Dusseldorf.

The California company will eventually form E-Trade Germany, using its presence there as a springboard to reach the central European nations of Poland, the Czech Republic, and Croatia.

E-Trade is also exploring opportunities elsewhere in Europe and in Asia, said Judy Balint, a senior vice president in charge of global marketing and strategic business development.

"Our objective is to create the first worldwide investing network," said Ms. Balint.

Ms. Balint said E-Trade would pursue joint ventures rather than outright acquisitions, so it could leverage local expertise and knowledge of country-specific regulatory issues.

E-Trade is not the first discount brokerage operation to seek a toehold overseas, noted Bill Burnham, an equity analyst with Piper Jaffray in Minneapolis. But it does appear to be a goal the company has have been working toward.

"E-Trade's technology platform is designed to be cloned," he said.

San Francisco heavyweight Charles Schwab & Co. has had a presence in the United Kingdom for several years.

On the banking front, Canada's Toronto-Dominion Bank's brokerage subsidiary, Green Line Investor Services, also has a presence in Great Britain. And E-Trade too will look to do something in the United Kingdom, said Ms. Balint.

Toronto-Dominion, which Friday agreed to a $15.8 billion merger with Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, also has brokerage operations in Hong Kong and Australia.

Other North American banks have not followed a similar international route, choosing instead to compete in the United States. Some banks have entered the discount brokerage business through acquisition, others under their own steam.

Fleet Financial Group in Boston is a contender through its brokerage unit Quick & Reilly, which offers discount and deep-discount on-line trading capabilities.

Toronto-Dominion Bank has made serious inroads into the market over the last two years. Its most recent venture involves a deal to acquire San Diego-based Jack White & Co. for roughly $100 million.

Through its main U.S. subsidiary, Waterhouse Investor Services, Toronto- Dominion had 8% of the domestic on-line market in the fourth quarter, according to Piper Jaffray. E-Trade had 14%, Quick & Reilly 5%, and Charles Schwab a hefty 30%. Figures for this year were not available.

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