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WaMu Sale: Deal or No Deal?

Washington Mutual's (WM) ouster of longtime CEO Kerry Killinger may signal that the ailing thrift is struggling to find a buyer and is setting its sights on a rebound.

WaMu announced Monday that banking veteran Alan Fishman, hailed by some industry insiders as a "turnaround artist," would succeed Killinger as CEO. The Seattle-based lender had been rumored to be considering a sale this year as the mortgage and housing meltdown has caused the company to post three consecutive quarters of earnings losses.

Christopher Brendler, an equity analyst at Stifel Nicolaus, speculates that the change in management is because a sale is "increasingly unlikely" and the company is resorting to "plan B," which is figuring out to how to fix the ailing company and return to profitability despite continued deterioration in the markets, he says.

"My opinion is they left Killinger as CEO because the best option for WaMu then and now is to sell the company," Brendler says. "Why change the CEO if you're going to sell the company?"

Rumors have circled for months regarding whether JPMorgan Chase (JPM) would finally pull the trigger and acquire a retail banking outfit, notably WaMu, but so far CEO Jamie Dimon has stayed on the sidelines. Yet any potential suitor for WaMu would probably find value in the branch franchise, possibly a foreign company such as HSBC (HBC), says Gary Townsend, the president and CEO of private-equity firm Hill-Townsend Capital.

Some say that Fishman was brought in to help close a deal.

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