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AIG Looking into Prior CDO Deals

Source: WSJ

Posted on 13 May 2010

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AIG Chief Executive Robert Benmosche at the company's annual meeting said that its legal staff is scrutinizing complex mortgage deals the company insured before its government rescue, and will take action if it concludes the transactions wrongly harmed the insurer.

"We are looking at all activities from that period," Mr. Benmosche said. "To the extent we find something wrong that harmed AIG inappropriately, our legal staff will take appropriate action."

Mr. Benmosche made his remarks in response to a question from an investor about Goldman Sachs Group Inc., which is facing a civil suit by the Securities and Exchange Commission over a mortgage deal known as a collateralized debt obligation. That deal, dubbed Abacus 2007-AC1, wasn't insured by AIG, though the bailed-out insurer previously worked with Goldman on other "Abacus" transactions. Goldman has denied wrongdoing in the case.

AIG's chairman, Harvey Golub, said the company continues to do business with Goldman, which he called a "fine firm that does a lot of things extraordinarily well."

Still, the insurer recently picked Citigroup Inc. and Bank of America Corp. instead of Goldman to advise the company on a plan that would help it pay back the bailout it got from the federal government, according to people familiar with matter.

The giant insurer had considered Goldman for the job, but picked the other banks after the firm was sued by the SEC, the people said. Goldman advised AIG on its recent deals to sell two overseas life-insurance businesses for $51 billion.

Where Goldman "can serve the purposes of AIG we will continue to use them," Mr. Golub said. "Where we can get better service from other firms we will do that."

A Goldman spokesman declined to comment.

AIG's annual meeting, held in a company cafeteria in lower Manhattan, lasted less than half an hour and prompted just a handful of questions from the investors in attendance.

With board members sitting in the front row and officials from the Treasury Department in the audience, Mr. Golub said the company was "grateful" to U.S. taxpayers for the bailout of up to $182.3 billion. He then moved quickly through an agenda that included a shareholder vote on the company's bonus plan, which passed.

Mr. Golub said the company has made "substantial progress in addressing key issues" in the past year. During that time, AIG agreed to sell the two large life insurance operations to repay the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and continued to wind down derivatives that were a major factor in its near-collapse. Mr. Benmosche said at the meeting that AIG's Financial Products unit, which sold the contracts, achieved a "dramatic reduction in risk" by unwinding many derivatives trades.

Some of AIG's Abacus deals were among those the unit exited last year. The agreements to unwind the contracts caused AIG to realize a loss of roughly $2 billion.

In the specific Abacus deal at the center of the SEC case, Goldman is accused of failing to tell investors that a hedge fund that wanted to bet against the deal had a hand in selecting mortgage assets that would determine how the security performed. Even before the SEC case made headlines, AIG had begun conducting reviews of the transactions arranged by its financial products unit for similar disclosure issues, according to people familiar with the effort.

Mr. Benmosche predicted "volatility" in AIG's earnings as it seeks to pay back the federal bailout that began in 2008 as AIG teetered on the brink of collapse. While Mr. Benmosche said the company's operating units "performed well" in the first quarter, when AIG swung to a $1.45 billion profit from a loss a year earlier, he said the company may take goodwill charges in the future.

AIG currently owes the Federal Reserve Bank of New York about $27 billion, including accrued interest and fees. The government-controlled insurance giant has also drawn about $49 billion in funds from the U.S. Treasury. The government owns just under 80% of AIG.