After months of saying it wouldn’t happen, the chief executive of Marsh & McLennan said the company is considering a sale of its investment arm, Putnam.

“Over the last few months there have been repeated inquiries from parties interested in either acquiring or partnering with Putnam. Therefore, in consultation with MMC’s board, I decided it was in the interest of our shareholders to do a market check to determine the value others would put on Putnam,” said Michael G. Cherkasky, president and chief executive officer of MMC, in a statement released before the close of the stock market today.

“We have just commenced this process and have not decided to take any specific action in regard to Putnam at this time,” he added.

For months, Mr. Cherkasky has held firm the view that New York-based MMC, parent company of insurance broker Marsh, would not divest itself of any of its parts. The company consists of Marsh, Putnam, the consulting firm Mercer, and investigative services Kroll.

After a disappointing 2nd quarter report, in which both Marsh and Putnam continued to show declines, an analyst chorus has grown, calling for divestment of some parts of the company.

MMC has been hit with 2 major legal actions where New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer found illegal activity in both Putnam and Marsh. The result has been settlements costing the company about $1 billion and cuts in revenue, as it has lost customers and given up some of its commission as part of the settlement agreements.

MMC’s stock, which has taken a tremendous hit since the revelations, closed up $1.19, at $29 a share on the news.

In an analyst’s note on the news from Bear Stearns’ David Small, he said Putnam would most likely be spun out from MMC to unlock the company’s value, but questioned if this was a true change in approach.

“We believe this would certainly be a step in the right direction, as we have for some time believed that MMC trades at a discount to its sum of the parts valuation,” he wrote, “although it is unclear whether this is a strategy change or just another price check.”

Mark Ruquet is an associate editor with National Underwriter’s Property & Casualty paper.