CapitalSource Inc. may not be drowning, but that isn't stopping the Chevy Chase, Md., finance company from looking for help.

CapitalSource has hired JPMorgan Chase & Co. as its investment banker, charging it to explore strategic options, according to sources familiar with the matter.

Both companies declined to comment, but the move did not surprise analysts. They said the $7 billion-asset company might gain advantage by taking this route.

"I am not of the view that there is an issue that would force them to do this," said Jeff Davis, an analyst at Guggenheim Partners LLC. "It could be as simple as them saying, 'Let's test the market and see the pricing that comes up.' "

Analysts mentioned deals such as Hancock Holding Co.'s planned purchase of Whitney Holding Corp., at 1.75 times tangible book value, and People's United Financial Inc.'s 2010 purchase of Financial Federal Corp., at 1.6 times tangible book value, as possible comparisons. CapitalSource could fetch a premium of 1.2 to 1.7 times tangible book, they said.

Davis said prospective buyers would probably be attracted by the company's acumen in commercial lending, a sweet spot that many lenders are chasing as an alternative to commercial real estate. CapitalSource began as a specialty finance company, but started looking for deposits in 2007. A year later, it became an industrial loan company after buying the deposits and most of the assets of Fremont General Corp. in Brea, Calif., from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

The company had planned to convert to a commercial bank, and it got approval from state regulators, but its application to become a bank holding company stalled at the Federal Reserve. Late last year, the company said it planned to renew its push to become a bank holding company and convert to a commercial bank.

Michael Taiano, an analyst at Sandler O'Neill & Partners LP, said this might be a clue as to why the company is exploring a sale. "Before they go down that road to becoming a bank holding company, which is long and arduous," he said, "maybe they decided to put out feelers to see if there was a deal that just makes more economic sense?"

Others said that, given the company's 20% tangible common equity ratio, it might be eyeing a sale to accelerate earnings growth potential.

"They are significantly underlevered," said Sameer Gokhale, an analyst at KBW Inc.'s Keefe Bruyette & Woods Inc. "If it is going to take a while for them to lever that and generate earnings, why not get a good price? Why wait two or three years?"

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