CHICAGO - At a time when many banking companies have closed or downsized their regional outposts, J.P. Morgan & Co. is planning to expand its operations in Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

The biggest growth will occur in Chicago, where the company plans to increase its staff to 70 from 17 by November. The office will be active in futures trading, corporate finance, taxable and tax-exempt securities, fixed-income securities, and public finance, a spokeswoman said Thursday.

Morgan's Chicago office now is primarily engaged in futures trading.

Plans for California

The New York-based bank also plans to expand its operations on the West Coast, the spokeswoman said. But the declined to released details on the current size of its California operations or expected growth in that market.

Morgan's expansion comes less than two years after many of its money-center and superregional rivals closed or down-sized their Chicago offices. Among them: Bank of New York Co., Wells Fargo & Co., Chase Manhattan Corp., and First Bank System Inc.

Morgan can still expect some stiff competition, analysts say. In Chicago, for example, both Continental Bank Corp. and First Chicago Corp. are stepping up their hometown efforts. And in California, Morgan faces such powerhouses as BankAmerica Corp., Wells Fargo, and First Interstate Bancorp, which also have redoubled their efforts in the home state.

But analysts says they expect Morgan to hold its own.

"They will have tough competition, but they won't be shut out," said Stephen Berman, an analyst with County NatWest Wood Mackenzie in New York.

Deepening Relationships

Unfettered by the asset quality and capital problems besetting some competitors, J.P. Morgan is in a position to flesh out relationships it previously had maintained by phone and travel.

In keeping with a developing strategy of recruiting talent from outside the company, J.P. Morgan in recent months has named newcomers to top positions at its Chicago and San Francisco offices.

C.H. Randolph Lyons, co-head of the company's Chicago office, formerly headed First Boston Corp.'s Chicago operations. Managing the office alongside him is Henry W. Howell Jr., a career Morgan officer who has represented the company in Melbourne, Australia; Frankfurt; and New York.

In San Francisco, former First Boston officer Michael George is now J.P. Morgan's director of public finance.

A Major Draw

One big attraction for J.P. Morgan in the Midwest, said Pershing & Co. analyst Joan Goodman, is the large municipal finance market.

In 1990 alone, the state of Illinois issued $6.7 billion of medium- and long-term debt, according to The Bond Buyer, an American Banker affiliate. The two biggest competitors in that market are First Chicago Capital Markets and Kemper Securities.

Greater still are municipal financing opportunities in California, which last year issued $25 billion of debt.

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