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Bank One Sells Loan Portfolio, 97 Offices

The move comes amid reports the bank is looking to sell its unit.

Updated from 7:06 a.m. EST

In the wake of reports that it might sell


Bank One

(ONE) - Get Report

said Wednesday that it would sell a $2.15 billion loan portfolio and 97 of its offices.

Though unrelated, both moves seem aimed at trimming the company's operations as it searches for a new chief executive, analysts said.

The nation's third-largest bank has seen its stock price lag since it announced last summer it would miss earnings estimates, mostly because of its struggling

First USA

credit card unit. Bank One has undergone several management changes since then, fueling repeated speculation that the bank could be for sale.

Bank One shares fell 1/8 to close at 27 on Wednesday, far short of their 52-week high of 63 9/16.

"The company's worth more dead than alive at this point," said Ron Mandle, analyst for

Sanford C. Bernstein

, which has not done any underwriting for Bank One. Mandle rates Bank One shares a buy. "Whether they decide to sell it piecemeal or all at once remains to be seen."

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The decision is unlikely to be made until the company completes its chief executive search in the next two months, Mandle said.

Household International

(HI) - Get Report

, a Prospect Heights, Ill.-based consumer lender and credit card issuer, will acquire 97

Bank One Financial Services

offices, offering jobs to "nearly 900" of the unit's 1,100 employees, the companies said in a statement.

Terms of the loan portfolio sale were not disclosed.

Household's acquisition of the offices and the loan portfolio leaves only the name Bank One Financial Services, said Tom Kelly, a Bank One spokesman.

The Wall Street Journal

reported Wednesday that Chicago-based Bank One had hired

Morgan Stanley Dean Witter Discover

to advise it on a potential sale of, the Web-only unit that debuted last year. But Kelly declined to say whether Morgan Stanley had been hired.

"While we don't comment on rumors and speculation, we said in January that we were reviewing all of our lines of business and business options including Wingspan Bank," he said.

Morgan Stanley also declined to comment.

Wilmington, Del.-based offers conventional banking services online. The company accepts deposits, and offers checking accounts, CDs, credit cards, and installment loans. Customers can apply for mortgages online; the bank also offers brokerage services, including online trading and insurance.

First USA manages