American International Group Inc.’s rescue has come to an end with the United States raising $7.6 billion in its final offering of the insurer’s shares, four years after a bailout that fueled resentment against Wall Street.
The Treasury Department is selling 234.2 million shares at $32.50 each in the sixth offering since the 2008 rescue. The proceeds boost the U.S. profit on the rescue that began in 2008 to $22.7 billion, according to a statement Tuesday from the Treasury, which injected capital through the Troubled Asset Relief Program.
The U.S. took over the New York-based company in a 2008 bailout that swelled to $182.3 billion to save the global economy from collapse. AIG has sold more than $65 billion of assets to help repay the rescue, while Chief Executive Officer Robert Benmosche scaled back from the derivative bets that almost destroyed the firm. He’s focusing on property-casualty coverage globally and life and retirement products in the U.S.
“Treasury can claim victory, AIG can be free of TARP, and AIG will begin to trade on its merits,” said Josh Stirling, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co., in note to investors. Investors in the latest offering “bought this recovering, but still controversial name at a discount from the government.”
The U.S. owned as much as 92 percent of AIG after saving a firm that insured 100,000 municipalities, retirement plans and companies and was counterparty to some of the biggest banks. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke has said saving AIG after it was hobbled by mortgage-related bets made him “more angry” than any other measure the government undertook to counter the deepest financial crisis since the Great Depression.
“There weren’t a lot of options, let’s face it,” Robert Willumstad, CEO of New York-based AIG when the firm was rescued, said in an interview last month. “It was controversial, it was a big risk, but one would argue today that the government got its money back and a healthy profit.”
The rescue began on Sept. 16, 2008, the day after Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. filed for bankruptcy. The initial bailout failed to stabilize the company and was revised at least three times to give AIG more capital and additional time to repay. In March 2009, the insurer reported a record loss of more than $60 billion as mortgage-backed securities slumped.
Bernanke wasn’t the only leader to fault AIG. Dana Perino, a spokeswoman for President George W. Bush’s White House, called “despicable” expenses from a conference sponsored by AIG for independent agents at a California resort after receiving U.S. aid. President Obama said bonus payments to traders at the money-losing Financial Products unit were an “outrage.”
Then-CEO Edward Liddy told Congress in 2009 of threats, including one that said AIG executives should be “executed with piano wire around their necks.” AIG stripped its logo from employee badges and charge cards after staff were harassed.
“It really stuck in the public’s craw that trillions of dollars of financial support were being provided to the commanding heights of the American financial system, and those guys were still paying themselves huge bonuses,” said Jim Millstein, the former Treasury chief restructuring officer and now CEO of advisory firm Millstein & Co. “I have real sympathy with the public in this regard.”
Benmosche, the former CEO of MetLife Inc., has sold Asian life insurers, consumer-finance operations and real estate since taking over in 2009 to help repay the rescue and simplify the company. He struck a deal this week to sell an 80 percent stake in the insurer’s plane-leasing unit. AIG had about $550 billion in assets as of Sept. 30, compared with more than $1 trillion at the end of 2007.
The revised bailout included a $60 billion credit line from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, a Treasury investment of as much as $69.8 billion and up to $52.5 billion from the Fed to buy mortgage-linked assets once owned or backed by AIG.
The Treasury acquired AIG common stock at a cost of about $47.5 billion, and the department’s profit on the share sales was about $4.1 billion. Most of the total $22.7 billion profit was recorded by the Fed, fueled by gains in mortgage-linked securities assumed in the rescue. The U.S. still holds warrants to buy about 2.7 million shares of AIG stock.
“Today warrants a celebration like no other in AIG’s history and places well in the past a crisis none of us will ever forget,” Benmosche said in a memo to employees.
The bailouts helped push Congress to pass the Dodd-Frank law to limit taxpayers’ cost on failing firms. AIG in October became the first non-bank to say it’s under consideration by regulators to be labeled a potential risk to the financial system, a designation that could lead to tighter capital rules.
“AIG exploited a huge gap in the regulatory system” and its Financial Products unit operated without oversight as it made derivative bets on subprime loans, Bernanke told lawmakers in 2009. “This was a hedge fund basically that was attached to a large and stable insurance company.”
Benmosche has said he is preparing to be “Fed ready” at AIG and is targeting 2013 for reinstating a dividend if the regulator approves. AIG has posted four straight quarterly profits.