In what may be the first in a series of international divestitures stemming from its pending merger with Chase Manhattan Corp., Chemical Banking Corp. confirmed that it is negotiating the sale of its holdings in Banco Chemical (Portugal) SA to Lisbon-based Banco Espirito Santo e Comercial de Lisboa.

Both banks declined to say more than "if and when a definitive agreement is reached, a new statement will be issued."

"As the bank merges with Chase, this is a natural time to take a look at their portfolio of businesses," said Lawrence W. Cohn, a banking analyst with PaineWebber Inc. "They are certainly going to find overlaps in a lot of places around the world and will have to address that issue."

The two banks are slated to merge early next year. The combined bank will have nearly $300 billion in assets and 75,000 employees in 51 countries. A large number of the 12,000 jobs slated for elimination at the merged entity are expected to come from overseas offices.

Observers speculated that another European unit with some $300 million in assets, Chemical Bank Norge AS in Oslo, might well be the next subsidiary up for sale. Duplicate branches, in locations such as London, are also prime candidates for consolidation.

Both Chemical and Chase shut down a large number of commercial banking offices around the world in the 1980s, but both still retain an extensive network of international offices, often in the same cities.

The Portuguese banking unit was originally set up by Manufacturers Hanover Trust Corp. in 1985 - Manny Hanny merged with Chemical in 1990. The unit has since been run by Chemical as a separate wholesale banking operation with five branches and nearly $1.1 billion in assets. It earned $9.4 million in 1994.

Manufacturers Hanover sold off a portion of its holding to investors in 1989, but Chemical still holds some two-thirds of the Portuguese unit's stock, which recently traded at about $11 a share on the Lisbon stock exchange.

Analysts said they were not surprised by Chemical's decision to sell because banking margins have been falling sharply in Portugal as a result of growing competition among local and foreign banks.

"Most foreigners are finding Portugal a tough market," said Inigo Lecubarri, a director of research for southern European banking at Salomon Brothers in London. "Margins have been falling like a stone, and hardly anybody makes money there."

He estimated that average lending margins in Portugal are now about 200 basis points, down from some 500 basis points at the start of the decade.

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