Effectiveness of AIG's $143 Billion Rescue Questioned

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By Carol D. Leonnig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 3, 2008

A number of financial experts now fear that the federal government's $143 billion attempt to rescue troubled insurance giant American International Group may not work, and some argue that company shareholders and taxpayers would have been better served by a bankruptcy filing.

The Treasury Department leapt to keep AIG from going bankrupt on Sept. 16, and in the past seven weeks, AIG has drawn down $90 billion in federal bailout loans. But some key AIG players argue that bankruptcy would have offered more structure and greater protections during a time of intense market volatility.

AIG declined to comment on the matter.

Echoing some other experts, Ann Rutledge, a credit derivatives expert and founding principal of R&R Consulting, said she is not sure how badly the financial system would have been rocked if the government had let AIG file for bankruptcy protection. But she fears that the government is papering over the problem with a quick fix that was not well planned.

"What we see now are a lot of games by the government to keep these institutions going with a lot of cash," she said. "This is to fill holes in companies' balance sheets, and they're trying to hold at bay the charges that our financial system is insolvent."

The deal that the Treasury and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York pressed upon AIG was intended to stop any domino effect of financial institutions falling because of their business ties to AIG. The rescue allowed AIG to provide cash to huge banks and other players who had invested in rapidly souring mortgages insured by the company.

Early this year, investors had begun privately demanding that AIG pay off its billion-dollar guarantees. But in mid-September, when the demands for cash reached a public crescendo, AIG had to admit that it didn't have enough cash on hand to meet the obligations.

In the first weeks of its federal rescue, AIG has used the loan money to post collateral demanded by these firms, sources close to those deals say.

"No one else benefits," former AIG chief executive and major shareholder Maurice R. "Hank" Greenberg wrote to AIG's current chief executive on Thursday. "Unless there is immediate change to the structure of the Federal loan, the American taxpayer will likely suffer a significant financial loss."

Another concern is that in this depressed market, AIG, and the taxpayers that now own 80 percent of the company, will lose coming and going.

The company may be forced to borrow additional federal funds for rising payouts to counterparties. Neither the government nor AIG is releasing information about the specific amounts paid to individual firms, but numerous credit experts say that the value of those mortgage assets is probably declining every week. That means AIG has to pay a higher price as part of its guarantees.

The company also may be forced to sell many more assets at low, fire-sale prices. As part of its loan deal, AIG was to sell some assets -- valued at $1 trillion before the crisis -- to raise cash to pay off the loan.


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© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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