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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

AIG gets $85 Billion bailout- Why? And 5 Questions for AIG Customers

NEW YORK ( -- In an unprecedented move, the Federal Reserve Board is lending as much as $85 billion to rescue crumbling insurer American International Group, officials announced Tuesday evening.

The Fed authorized the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to lend AIG (AIG, Fortune 500) the funds. In return, the federal government will receive a 79.9% stake in the company.

Officials decided they had to act lest the nation's largest insurer file bankruptcy. Such a move would roil world markets since AIG (AIG, Fortune 500) has $1.1 trillion in assets and 74 million clients in 130 countries.

An eventual liquidation of the company is most likely, senior Fed officials said. But with the government loan, the company won't have to go through a tumultuous fire sale.

"[A] disorderly failure of AIG could add to already significant levels of financial market fragility and lead to substantially higher borrowing costs, reduced household wealth and materially weaker economic performance," the Fed said in a statement.

The bailout marks the most dramatic turn yet in an expanding crisis that started more than a year ago with the mortgage meltdown. The resulting credit crunch is now toppling not only mainstay Wall Street players, but others in the wider financial industry.

The line of credit to AIG, which is available for two years, is designed to help the company meet its obligations, the Fed said. Interest will accrue at a steep rate of 3-month Libor plus 8.5%, which totals 11.31% at today's rates.

AIG will sell certain of its businesses with "the least possible disruption to the overall economy." The government will have veto power over the asset sales and the payment of dividends to shareholders.

The company's management will be replaced, though Fed staffers did not name the new executives. The board will remain. For customers, it will be business as usual, officials said.

Taxpayers will be protected, the Fed said, because the loan is backed by the assets of AIG and its subsidiaries. The loan is expected to be repaid from the proceeds of the asset sales.

The government had resisted throwing a lifeline to AIG, hoping to entice investment firms to set up a $75 billion rescue fund. Officials opted not to bail out Lehman Brothers, which filed for bankruptcy on Monday. But by Tuesday night, it became clearer that the private sector would not step in to help AIG, which has a greater reach into other financial companies and markets than Lehman does.

"We are working closely with the Federal Reserve, the SEC and other regulators to enhance the stability and orderliness of our financial markets and minimize the disruption to our economy," said Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. "I support the steps taken by the Federal Reserve tonight to assist AIG in continuing to meet its obligations, mitigate broader disruptions and at the same time protect the taxpayers."

Dramatic end, high stakes

The firm's options grew more limited as the day wore on. Its already-battered share price fell another 21% with more than 1 billion shares trading hands, and plummeted another 46% in after-hours trading.

At one point Tuesday morning, shares fell more than 70% - a day after losing 61% of their value.

In a statement late Tuesday night the company said, "AIG is a solid company with over $1 trillion in assets and substantial equity, but it has been recently experiencing serious liquidity issues. We believe the loan, which is backed by profitable, well-capitalized operating subsidiaries with substantial value, will protect all AIG policyholders, address rating agency concerns and give AIG the time necessary to conduct asset sales on an orderly basis."

The company also commended the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department for "taking action to address AIG's liquidity needs and broader financial market concerns."

Furthermore, the firm expressed its gratitude to New York Governor Paterson, and other NY State as well as Federal officials.

New York State officials, who regulate the insurance titan, had urged the federal government to rescue AIG. The state attempted to help AIG on Monday by allowing it to tap into $20 billion in assets from its subsidiaries if the company could comes up with a comprehensive plan to get the much-needed capital, said a state Insurance Department spokesman.

Pleased with the federal government's response, New York Gov. David Paterson said Tuesday night: "Policy holders will be protected. Jobs will be saved. Business will continue."

The funding became ever more crucial as the insurer was hit Monday night by a series of credit rating downgrades. The cuts meant AIG (AIG, Fortune 500) could be forced to post more than $13 billion in additional collateral.

Late Monday night, Moody's Investors Service and Standard & Poor's Ratings Services each said they had lowered their ratings. A few hours earlier, Fitch Rating had also downgraded AIG, saying the company's ability to raise cash is "extremely limited" because of its plummeting stock price, widening yields on its debt, and difficult capital market conditions.

The downgrade could force AIG to post $13.3 billion of collateral, Fitch said in a statement. Also, the moves would make it more expensive for AIG to issue debt and harder for it to regain the confidence of investors.

All the while, analysts urged the company to unveil its restructuring plan.

"Management needs to address investor concerns now before the market sell-off becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy," Rob Haines, analyst at CreditSights, said Tuesday.

Global ripples

The failure of AIG could have caused unprecedented global ripple effects, said Robert Bolton, managing director at Mendon Capital Advisors Corp. AIG is a major player in the market for credit default swaps, which are insurance-like contracts that guarantee against a company defaulting on its debt. Also, it is a huge provider of life insurance, property and casualty insurance and annuities.

"If AIG fails and can't make good on its obligations, forget it," Bolton said. "It's as big a wave as you're going to see."

AIG has had a very tough year.

Rocked by the subprime crisis, the company has lost more than $18 billion in the past nine months and has seen its stock price fall more than 91% so far this year. It already raised $20 billion in fresh capital earlier this year.

Its troubles stem from its sales of credit default swaps and from its subprime mortgage-backed securities holdings.

AIG has written down the value of the credit default swaps by $14.7 billion, pretax, in the first two quarters of this year, and has had to write down the value of its mortgage-backed securities as the housing market soured.

The insurer could be forced to immediately come up with $18 billion to support its credit swap business if its ratings fall by as little as one notch, wrote John Hall, an analyst at Wachovia, on Monday.

This year's results have also included $12.2 billion in pretax writedowns, primarily because of "severe, rapid declines" in certain mortgage-backed securities and other investments.

The company brought in new management to try to turn the company around. In June, the company tossed out its chief executive, Martin Sullivan, and named AIG chairman Robert Willumstad, who joined AIG in 2006 after serving as president and chief operating officer of Citigroup (C, Fortune 500), in his place

NEW YORK ( -- American International Group is the nation's largest insurer and at the moment, Wall Street's biggest worry.

On Tuesday night, the federal government announced an $85 billion rescue of the company.

Despite the company's importance, the average American is probably not sure how, or why, its problems will affect them.

Here are five key questions and answers about AIG's current woes and what they mean to you.

I have insurance through AIG. How worried should I be about the problems at the company?

At least in the short term, you probably don't need to be worried at all. The problems are with the AIG holding company, not the individual insurance company subsidiaries that you do business with, according to a source with New York State's insurance regulator.

Even if AIG's holding company is forced to file for bankruptcy court protection, there's a good chance that the subsidiaries will continue to operate normally with no disruption in claims payments. That has happened in the case of other insurance holding companies' bankruptcies in the past, such as Conseco (CNO).

What guarantees that my claims will be paid?

Typically, if an insurance company falls into financial distress and is at risk of having claims that exceed the assets it holds to make those payments, the insurance regulator in its home state will take control of the firm and make payments.

The state regulator will not only use the firm's own assets to make those payments but, if necessary, can also make payments out of a state fund into which all insurers in the state are required to pay.

This guarantee applies not just to traditional insurance policies but also to retirement products that have a promised payout, such as annuities.

But there are limits to the payments that will be made to customers that vary depending on which state a particular AIG subsidiary is based, according to Joseph Belth, professor emeritus of insurance at Indiana University and editor of The Insurance Forum, a newsletter often critical of the industry.

Should I be thinking about changing my policy away from AIG to another insurer?

While credit rating agencies downgraded debt held by AIG (AIG, Fortune 500) on Monday, AIG's ratings are still considered investment grade and the company's insurance subsidiaries are considered to be secure, at least for now.

Belth said changing insurers is not a simple decision.

"A lot depends on what kind of insurance you talk about," he said. "If you're talking about life insurance, you have to think about whether you can qualify with a new insurer, if your health has changed. But it's something you have to consider if the ratings decline into the vulnerable range."

Why should I care about problems at AIG if I'm not a customer?

AIG is by far the world's largest insurer and its stock is found in many mutual funds, including any S&P 500 index fund. It is also a component of the Dow Jones industrial average. All by itself, it's been responsible for dragging the Dow down more than 400 points so far this year.

AIG is also active in the business of credit default swaps, complicated financial instruments used by investors to protect themselves from bond defaults. Lehman Brothers (LEH, Fortune 500) was another major player in that field. If both go away, it would create a tighter credit market for consumers and businesses trying to get loans.

For this reason, there is a debate about whether the Federal Reserve will agree to lend the company the tens of billions of dollars it needs to cover its short-term funding needs or if the Fed will try and get private firms to assist AIG instead.

AIG is an insurer, not a lender. Why do I keep hearing about its problems with subprime mortgages?

All insurers take money they collect in premiums and invest them in different forms of assets. The idea is to make money on those investments so that the insurer can keep their premiums low and attract more clients.

But AIG made a bigger investment into securities that were backed by subprime mortgages than most other insurers. As defaults and foreclosures of those loans rose, the value of those securities fell, creating big problems for the firm.

In the past nine months, AIG has reported net losses of more than $18 billion, largely due to its exposure to bad mortgages. To top of page