Posted on 14 May 2009
Chief Executive Edward Liddy of American International Group Inc. (AIG) on Wednesday defended the embattled insurer by describing steps it has taken to reduce its size and risk to the global financial system.
"We have a plan to repay the American taxpayer. AIG will emerge as a much smaller, more nimble company," said Liddy at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on Wednesday. "The financial products unit will not exist. We have reduced, but not eliminated the systemic risk that AIG presents to the global financial system."
The hearing focused on the collapse and federal bailout of the mega-insurance company.
AIG has received over $180 billion in taxpayer-funded bailout dollars to keep it afloat, in part, because of concern by Treasury officials that the super-sized insurance corporation's collapse would have caused too much collateral damage to the financial markets. In exchange, the administration has received an 80% stake in the company.
AIG also has also come under criticism for paying out $450 million in bonuses worldwide to a wide variety of employees, including traders of credit default swaps, considered central to the financial crisis.
Liddy, who took over as CEO of the company in September, argued that criticism the company received, in part, for granting the bonuses hurts the business and billions of taxpayer dollars invested in the company. He added that AIG has a plan to work its way out of its problems so it can repay the government, but that it depends on the recovery of the capital markets.
Rampant, unwarranted criticism of AIG serves only to diminish the value of our businesses around the world to the detriment of our shareholders, including taxpayers, who own some 80% of AIG," Liddy said.
A number of lawmakers said they were worried about the billions of taxpayer dollars AIG has received, particularly in light of the company's bonus payouts.
"Is AIG in effect a giant sinkhole?" asked Rep. Wm. Lacy Clay, D-Mo. "It appears investors are propping AIG up.
Sale of units
Liddy said he expects AIG will complete its transfer of two key divisions, American Life Insurance Company, or Alico, and American International Assurance Co., or AIA, into a special purpose entity "in the near future." As part of a deal with bank regulators, AIG is moving the two units into this division in exchange for a substantial debt reduction.
AIG is also transferring its Global Property & Casualty Insurance unit into a special purpose entity to prepare for the potential sale of a minority stake in the business.
He pointed out that AIG has also reduced its exposure to "complex derivatives" from its peak of $2.7 trillion to $1.5 trillion. "We continue to explore multiple options to break apart these trading books so that we can reduce the remaining risks, sell off portions of the business..." Liddy said.
Trustees seek new AIG directors
Liddy pointed out that the company works closely with trustees appointed by the New York Federal Reserve Bank. The three trustees are also expected to testify about their oversight of AIG at the hearing on Wednesday. According to a letter to Liddy on May 7, the Trustees are seeking to have a broad review of the insurer's compensation practices with a focus on "performance-based compensation philosophy," by the end of the year.
The three trustees are also planning to seek new AIG board members and will make a decision shortly, according to testimony prepared for delivery on Wednesday. "We are actively seeking new members of the board who could add important skills and perspectives," the Trustees said.
The Fed appointed Jill Considine, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Economics Club of New York, Chester Feldberg, former chairman of Barclays Americas, and Douglas Foshee, owner of El Paso Corp., a natural gas pipeline system, to oversee the insurer.
The New York Fed said it set up the trust agreement to avoid conflicts with the New York Fed's supervisory and monetary policy functions.