US Federal Reserve prepares to take over AIG

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Federal Reserve took over American International Group (AIG) on Tuesday in an US$85 billion loan, in exchange for a 79.9% stake in the company.

A press release issued Tuesday stated that "the Board determined that, in current circumstances, a disorderly failure of AIG could add to already significant levels of financial market fragility and lead to substantially higher borrowing costs, reduced household wealth, and materially weaker economic performance."

The deal allows AIG to draw up to US$85 billion in loans over the next 24 months to shore up the orderly sale of various divisions of the company without further interruption to the economy. In exchange, the Federal Reserve will have a 79.9% equity stake, primarily in the form of equity participation notes. The loan carries an interest rate of LIBOR plus 850 points. Should AIG fail, the loan is covered completely by company assets. Should AIG recover however, taxpayers could potentially recover large profits.

This news comes on the heels of the Federal Reserve refusing to bail out Lehman Brothers, forcing the company to file for bankruptcy on Monday after Bank of America(BoA) and Barclays PLC pulled out of negotiations over the weekend. The fact that AIG has thousands of divisions engaged in business across the globe sets them apart from the recent problems with other banks. AIG was built up over the last several years via the buyouts and mergers of many companies around the world, offering AIG's stockholders a diverse base of income which allowed it to steadily increase profits.

It is this interconnectedness that had the Federal Reserve worried. Should AIG collapse, it could set off a global chain reaction in multiple markets. In an interview with the New York Times, former Treasury official Roger Altman said, "It’s the interconnectedness and the fear of the unknown. The prospect of the world’s largest insurer failing, together with the interconnectedness and the uncertainty about the collateral damage — that’s why it’s scaring people so much."

While AIG, like many other banks, found itself embroiled in the middle of the sub-mortgage lending crisis, AIG has also been struggling to deal with controversies in other complex financial instruments such as credit default swaps. These markets have been exploding for several years, but due to lack of regulation by the government, recent reversals have seen AIG's stock value tumble by over 90 percent in the last year.



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