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The Deal: Asset Sales May Help JPMorgan Image Makeover

NEW YORK ( The Deal) -- Pressure by the Federal Reserve is driving JPMorgan Chase (JPM - Get Report) to sell its physical commodities operation; however the sale could also improve the tarnished image of the too-big-to-fail-bank that was once the darling of Wall Street, analysts said.

The company said in July that it will explore "a sale, spinoff or strategic" partnership for its commodities unit, which includes the storing of metals products including steel and aluminum, a process that has attracted several interested suitors, according to analysts following the bank.

However, analysts contend that the auction of the commodity assets comes as regulators have put increased pressure on JPMorgan and the other big U.S. banks to sell their non-core businesses. As part of that pressure, the Federal Reserve in July said it is reviewing a 2003 determination that "certain commodity activities are complementary to financial activities and as a result are permitted for banks."

This is a message that Fed has found "some stuff going on" at the big bank's commodity units and wants it to stop, which can be accomplished by selling off the unit, said Nancy Bush, managing member at NAB Research.

However, the sale could also help improve the public image of the too-big-to-fail bank by sending a message to the world that it is trying to become more manageable and less of a complex institution, even though the unit is tiny and the divestiture won't go far to reducing its size and complexity.

"There is no negative news associated with this sale. It's a good thing for their reputation because they look like they are getting smaller and more manageable," said one analyst.

A sale of the unit would actually result in a sliver of positive news for a bank whose name has been dragged through the mud of late -- with more bad news expected in the days and months to come. The bank in 2012 experienced a $6.2 billion credit derivatives trading loss known as the "London Whale" incident, for which regulators last month fined it roughly $1 billion over "deficiencies" in oversight, management and internal controls. JPMorgan will likely soon pay a staggering $11 billion or more to settle a hodgepodge of other issues facing the bank, but the deal is not expected to resolve all the lawsuits pending before the overly interconnected institution.
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