E-Trade Financial, the beleaguered online broker, is in talks to sell itself, according to people familiar with the situation.
The company is speaking to a number of rival firms about a sale of the entire company or just its brokerage operations. Bankers say that while there is plenty of interest and some momentum behind the talks, it is far from clear whether any deal will happen.
Still, the board is moving with all deliberate speed to see if it can get a deal done, according to people with knowledge of the talks.
The key issue is what to do with E-Trade's bank, whose foray into the mortgage market has brought disasterous losses. The company has been forced to write down its portfolio of mortgages.
While the presence of those mortgages on E-Trade's balance sheet presents problems for would-be acquirers and adds complexity to a transaction, bankers say that among the firms looking at E-Trade are those who know how to deal with troubled financial assets.
TD Ameritrade and Charles Schwab are among the firms believed to be talking to E-Trade, though that could not be confirmed.
E-Trade and Ameritrade declined to comment.
E-Trade's stock , which tanked earlier this fall when the company's problems became public, has been up sharply since Wednesday.
In a CNBC interview earlier this month, TD Ameritrade Chief Executive Joe Moglia expressed interest in acquiring E-Trade's retail trading operation but cautioned that such a deal would only happen if it benefits both companies' shareholders.
Charles Schwab Chief Executive Charles Schwab also has said the company was interested in buying additional client accounts.