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Conference Snub Could Signal E*Trade Shakeup

E*Trade Financial (ETFC - Get Report) CEO Mitch Caplan canceled a scheduled presentation at a major investor conference Wednesday, raising speculation about a possible sale or management change at the beleaguered firm.

Caplan was slated to speak at the Merrill Lynch Banking & Financial Services conference on Wednesday afternoon, but will no longer be presenting so that the management team can focus on fixing the problems at the company, a spokeswoman said.

E*Trade shares lost more than half their value on Monday after a Citigroup analyst suggested there could be a run on the company's bank. The speculation came after the New York-based firm announced late Friday that it will take further writedowns on its collateralized debt obligations, or CDOs, and second-lien securities portfolio.

Observers have suggested that the firm may need to sell certain assets -- or the entire company -- to recover from the losses.

Typically, when a company executive cancels a major presentation to be given to investors, the perception is not good. Investors usually expect a major piece of news, such as an impending M&A transaction by the firm or that a management shake-up is about to occur.

Even as E*Trade shares spiraled downward on Monday, analysts renewed talk of a sale. Market chatter earlier this year had TD Ameritrade (AMTD - Get Report) and E*Trade talking about a possible merger.

"CEO Mitch Caplan will pursue what's best for shareholders and would step aside/give up control of the company if an appropriate transaction was presented," Sandler O'Neill & Partners analyst Richard Repetto wrote in a note Monday.

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