Wachovia mulling insurance sale?

As Wachovia Corp. mulls the sale of “non-core” assets to raise capital, employees inside the bank's insurance brokerage are wondering if that business could be on the block.

Sources said speculation has mounted inside the unit since chief executive Bob Steel said last month that the Charlotte bank would consider selling unspecified assets. Weighed down by rising loan losses, Wachovia is looking to generate and preserve capital after reporting a $9.1 billion second-quarter loss.

Analysts have frequently cited the Wachovia Securities brokerage unit and the Evergreen asset management arm as top candidates that could be shed. But Wachovia has said the brokerage is not for sale and has called Evergreen “core” to the company, citing its strong synergies with other business lines.

On Wednesday, bank spokeswoman Christy Phillips-Brown declined to comment on specific businesses that could be sold.

Wachovia Insurance Services is a brokerage that offers property-casualty insurance, risk management consulting, employee benefits and compensation consulting, life insurance, and executive benefits to clients nationwide. It has 1,300 insurance employees in 34 offices throughout15 states and the District of Columbia, according to the bank's Web site.

The business has been built through internal growth and acquisitions, including the 2005 purchase of Palmer & Cay Inc. of Savannah, Ga. In 2007, Wachovia was the nation's 12th biggest insurance brokerage with $422.5 million in revenue, down from No. 11 the previous year, according to Business Insurance magazine. It trailed far behind No. 1 Marsh & McLennan Cos. Inc., which tallied $5.5 billion in revenue.

Sandler O'Neill + Partners analyst Kevin Fitzsimmons said the company is likely analyzing a number of possible asset sales, looking at the capital businesses use, the profits they generate and the price they could fetch.

“Anything that can be carved out and not necessarily viewed as core to the retail/commercial bank is potentially fair game,” Fitzsimmons said. “I think at this point we can assume there are a number of businesses on the table.”

Wall Street likely will give Steel until the end of the year to lay out his plans, Fitzsimmons, but that timetable could accelerate if profits slump further.