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Bank One may be mulling sale of Net unit

The giant U.S. bank reportedly enlists investment bank Morgan Stanley Dean Witter to advise it on the possible sale of WingspanBank.com, less than a year after launching the Internet-only bank.

Bank One, the nation's fourth-largest bank, has enlisted Morgan Stanley Dean Witter to advise it on the possible sale of WingspanBank.com, less than a year after launching the Internet-only bank, according to a report.

The price Bank One could obtain for WingspanBank depends largely on whether the Net bank will be sold as one unit or in fragments, according to people familiar with the matter, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Bank One is looking for ways to shore up its stock, which has been on a slide since last summer. Shares dropped from nearly $64 per share in June to almost $30 in September. The stock is now trading at about $27 per share. Its credit card unit, First USA, has been largely blamed for the slide.

A WingspanBank representative had no comments on the subject. A Bank One representative said: "We're looking at all of our strategic options across all lines of business, and that includes Wingspan."

Indeed, today the bank announced it agreed to sell its $2.15 billion real estate loan portfolio to Household International.

The possible sale of WingspanBank comes amid turbulent times for Net-only banks, which are faced with growing competition from traditional banks coming online as well as a renewed focus on Internet security.

WingspanBank has suffered a series of high-level defections. James Stewart, its chief executive, left last year after Richard Vague, First USA's CEO and supporter of the Net bank, resigned after a management shake-up. The unit also lost support after John McCoy, Bank One's CEO and a strong booster of WingspanBank, retired at the end of 1999.

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