Washington Mutual Cutting 850 Jobs

Washington Mutual ( WM) set plans Thursday to close 53 commercial banking centers, eliminating 850 jobs.

The move comes as the company seeks to sharpen its commercial business. Seattle-based WaMu said it would drop out of the professional home builder finance market and reorganize its commercial real estate team. That group will now focus on structured and standardized portfolio lending for commercial real estate owners and investors, and will discontinue its proprietary commercial mortgage-backed securitization platform.

"Today's announcement is difficult because it impacts employees who have worked so hard for our company," said WaMU Executive Craig Chapman. "However, our future success depends on focusing our teams on major markets, products and services where we can best serve our commercial customers."

The decision comes at the end of a rough stretch for the big bank. Washington Mutual slashed 2004 earnings guidance last month, just six months after it laid out a plan to cut staffing in an effort to boost profitability. Analysts have said the bank has failed to adequately hedge its exposure to interest rate swings during its rapid expansion across the country.

On Thursday, WaMu rose 18 cents to $38.67.

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