HARTFORD, Conn. - Aetna Inc. said it is in talks that could lead to the sale of all or part of its financial services and international businesses to ING Group.

Responding to rumors that drove the insurers shares up $4.0625 to $66.75 Wednesday, chairman and chief executive officer William H. Donaldson said, ``We have previously said that we intended to separate Aetna's Global Financial Services business into an independent publicly traded company, and this still remains a viable option. However, we also said that we would review and consider other legitimate opportunities presented to us." In March, the insurer turned down a joint $10 billion takeover bid from ING and Wellpoint Health Networks.

But on Wednesday, CNBC reported that Hartford, Conn.-based Aetna was discussing the sale of its financial services operations to Amsterdam-based ING Group for up to $9 billion.

Todd Richter, of Banc of America Securities, said that the insurer would face a huge tax liability if it sold its financial services unit separately from its health insurance operations. "The sale of the whole company makes more sense." Mr. Richter said Aetna has seen some improvements in its business in recent months. The firm's performance is "better than they have been doing, but still very poor relative to what they've been investing in the business."

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