Tag Archives: aig

Nationalization Works

By James Kwak

The Treasury Department today announced that it has sold off the rest of its stake in A.I.G. Treasury will focus on the claim that taxpayers made a profit on the deal. As I’ve written before, the story is a bit more complicated.

But that’s a sideshow. The point of nationalizing A.I.G. (what else do you call it when the government buys 80% of a company?) wasn’t to make money; it was supposedly to save the global economy. In any case, things have worked out pretty well: the global economy is intact, though still not healthy, and A.I.G. is a private company again.

Which brings up what, to me, is the bigger question: Why were we so afraid of nationalizing Citigroup and Bank of America four years ago? And isn’t A.I.G. looking like a better company today than those two?

The Next Subpoena For Goldman Sachs

Yesterday’s release of detailed information regarding with whom AIG settled in full on credit default swaps (CDS) at the end of 2008 was helpful.  We learned a great deal about the precise nature of transactions and the exact composition of counterparties involved.

We already knew, of course, that this “close out” at full price was partly about Goldman Sachs – and that SocGen was involved.  There was also, it turns out, some Merrill Lynch exposure (affecting Bank of America, which was in the process of buying Merrill).  Still, it’s striking that no other major banks had apparently much of this kind of insurance from AIG against their losses – Citi, Morgan Stanley, and JPMorgan, for example, are not on the list.

This information is useful because it will help the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee structure a follow up subpeona to be served on Goldman Sachs with the following purpose: Continue reading

More on Goldman and AIG

Thomas Adams, a lawyer and former bond insurer executive, wrote a guest post for naked capitalism on the question of why AIG was bailed out and the monoline bond insurers were not (wow, is it really almost two years since the monoline insurer crisis?). He estimates that the monolines together had roughly the same amount of exposure to CDOs that AIG did; in addition, since the monolines also insured trillions of dollars of municipal debt, there were potential spillover effects. (AIG, by contrast, insured tens of trillions of non-financial stuff — people’s lives, houses, cars, commercial liability, etc. — but that was in separately capitalized subsidiaries.)

The difference between the monolines and AIG, Adams posits, was Goldman Sachs.

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The AIG-Maiden Lane III Controversy

As everyone knows by now, Neil Barofsky, special inspector general for TARP, has a new report out on the decision by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York last Fall to make various AIG counterparties (primarily some very big banks with names you know) whole on the the CDS protection they had bought from AIG to cover their risk on some CDOs. The potentially juicy bit has to do with the Maiden Lane III transaction (New York Fed summary here).

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Obama, the Light Touch?

Edmund L. Andrews and David E. Sanger have an article in The New York Times today that is sure to infuriate some people, including me. Here’s one excerpt:

“Far from eagerly micromanaging the companies the government owns, Mr. Obama and his economic team have often labored mightily to avoid exercising control even when government money was the only thing keeping some companies afloat.

“A few weeks ago, there were anguished grimaces inside the Treasury Department as the new chief executive of A.I.G., Robert H. Benmosche, whose roughly $9 million pay package is 22 times greater than Mr. Obama’s, ridiculed officials in Washington — his majority shareholders — as ‘crazies.’

“Causing even more unease to policymakers, Mr. Benmosche insisted that A.I.G. — one of the worst offenders in the risk-taking that sent the nation over the edge last year — would not rush to sell its businesses at fire-sale prices, despite pressure from Fed and Treasury officials, who are desperate to have the insurer repay its $180 billion government bailout.

“But in the end, according to one senior official, ‘no one called him and told him to shut up,’ and no one has pulled rank and told him to sell assets as soon as possible to repay the loans.

“A similar hands-off decision was made about the auto companies. Shortly after General Motors and Chrysler emerged from bankruptcy, some members of the administration’s auto task force argued that the group should not go out of business until it was confident that a new management team in Detroit had a handle on what needed to be done.

“But Mr. Summers strongly rejected that approach, and the Treasury secretary, Timothy F. Geithner, agreed.

“‘The argument was that if the president said he wasn’t elected to run G.M., then we couldn’t hire a new board and then try to run any aspect of it,’ one participant in the discussions said. The auto task force took off for summer vacation in July, and it never returned.”

The political argument for this position makes sense. Basically, Obama and his administration are afraid of being charged with “socialism” or “big government,” so they are doing what they can to defuse this charge. (Not that that will help given the way political rhetoric is thrown around these days.)

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The Man Who Crashed the World?

Back in November, Michael Lewis wrote a great story in Portfolio on the financial crisis, focusing on the traders who saw that the housing bubble was going to crash, bringing mortgage-backed securities down with it – and made lots of money betting on it. Now Lewis is back with his article in Vanity Fair on AIG Financial Products (FP) and its last head, Joseph Cassano. This time, though, it feels like it’s missing the usual Lewis magic.

Lewis sets out to tell the untold story of FP, based on extensive interviews with people who actually worked there. He starts by laying out the conventional wisdom about FP, which presumably he is going to debunk. The conventional wisdom, according to Lewis, is that the problem lay in credit default swaps: “The public explanation of A.I.G.’s failure focused on the credit-default swaps sold by traders at A.I.G. F.P., when A.I.G.’s problems were clearly much broader.” Indeed, Lewis implies that the government essentially framed FP: “Why were officials, both public and private, so intent on leading others to believe all the losses at A.I.G. had been caused by a few dozen traders in this fringe unit in London and Connecticut?

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The Department Of Justice Is On Line Two

I don’t generally overreact to news (from the NYT this morning, on the AIG-Goldman connection that runs through Edward Liddy’s stock ownership), but this has gone far enough. 

Have we completely lost of sense of what is and is not a conflict of interest?  Have we really built a system in which greed fully overshadows responsibility?  Is it not time for a complete rethink of what constitutes acceptable executive behavior?

One of our country’s leading corporate attorneys made a telling point to me on Wednesday night, “the only way to control executive behavior is to criminalize it,” i.e., civil penalties do not change behavior – the prospect of jail time has to be on the table.  His broader point was that antitrust action can make a difference in today’s world, but only if this includes potential criminal charges. Continue reading