It's been an awful year for initial public offerings for just about every Wall Street firm. But it's been downright brutal for J.P. Morgan Chase ( JPM), which has dropped to 20th place in the industry rankings of lead underwriters on domestic IPOs.

The lowly score leaves J.P. Morgan trailing the likes of Keefe Bruyette & Woods, Morgan Keegan and William Blair -- niche players that lack the storied history of J.P. Morgan. Last year, according to Thomson Financial Securities Data, J.P. Morgan came in at a respectable seventh place in the rankings, which are based on the total dollar value of new stock offerings an investment bank brings to market.

On Wall Street, investment banks that don't break into the top 10 in underwriting IPOs usually are either specialized boutiques or struggling also-rans. No one would think to classify J.P. Morgan, which has visions of creating a financial behemoth that would rival the firepower of Citigroup ( C), as an investment-banking boutique.

Indeed, this year's rankings demonstrate just how wide a gap there is between J.P. Morgan and Citigroup, the nation's biggest financial-services firm, when it comes to IPO underwriting for U.S. companies. Citigroup's Salomon Smith Barney investment-banking division sits in first place in the latest Securities Data rankings.

So far, Citigroup has taken a lead underwriting position on 10 IPOs with a combined market value of $6.27 billion. Its nearest competitor is Goldman Sachs ( GS), which has managed six IPOs with a combined value of $3.45 billion.

J.P. Morgan, by comparison, was the co-lead underwriter this year on just a single IPO -- a $90 million stock offering for USI Holdings ( USIH), a small San Francisco-based financial-services firm. But since J.P. Morgan shared the underwriting assignment with Merrill Lynch ( MER), Securities Data only gives the bank credit for bringing $44.5 million of new stock offerings to market this year.

Admittedly, the rankings don't tell the full story, because every firm's numbers are down sharply from just a few years ago. With only a few weeks left in the year, just 73 domestic IPOs have come to market with a combined dollar value of $20.1 billion. In 1999, at the peak of the stock market bubble, Wall Street firms underwrote a record 481 IPOs worth $58.7 billion.

"It is absolutely ridiculous to give credence to IPO league table rankings in a year of extraordinarily low volume," said a J.P. Morgan spokesman.

Meanwhile, Citigroup's numbers are skewed by the mammoth $3.5 billion IPO for Travelers Property & Casualty ( TAP.A), a subsidiary that Citigroup spun off this year in a deal it largely managed itself.

And J.P. Morgan -- even before the two-year-old merger with Chase Manhattan Bank -- was never known as an IPO powerhouse. Last year it did just four domestic IPOs with a combined dollar value of $561 million.

But still, the drop-off in domestic IPOs is jarring, especially at a time when many on Wall Street are questioning whether it makes sense for J.P. Morgan to continue to claim it offers a full-service investment bank. The poor performance of J.P. Morgan's investment bank is one reason why earnings have fallen so much this year at the bank.

"It always has been a weakness of theirs," said Reilly Tierney, a financial-services analyst with Fox-Pitt, Kelton, who personally owns shares of J.P. Morgan Chase. "But they believe they have to be in the equity business to have a complete product suite."

J.P. Morgan's domestic IPO business endured a big blow when it lost out in the beauty contest to manage the $4.6 billion IPO for CIT Group ( CIT), which Tyco International ( TYC) spun off this year. Goldman and Lehman Brothers were the co-managers of that deal. Some on Wall Street had thought J.P. Morgan would get the deal, since it was the lead underwriter on CIT's initial 1997 IPO.

Tierney said the saving grace for J.P. Morgan in the IPO business is that it still manages to do a respectable job overseas. And as long as that continues, Tierney said, J.P. Morgan executives will argue that they eventually can move up in the underwriting ranks.

Indeed, J.P. Morgan does look a lot better if you factor in its overseas IPO underwriting business. This year, Securities Data reports that the bank, on a worldwide basis, ranks 14th in IPO underwriting compared with a 23rd-place ranking last year. In 2002 the bank has been the lead manager on seven new stock offerings with a combined dollar value of $890 million.

Yet once again, J.P. Morgan ranks well behind Citigroup, the worldwide IPO leader. Securities Data reports that Citigroup has underwritten 44 IPOs worldwide with a combined value of $9 billion.

J.P. Morgan ranks right behind Citigroup in terms of total assets, but in IPO deals, it looks like J.P. Morgan is fielding a minor-league team.