AIG: Treasury’s white-knuckle ride

November 1, 2010, 10:35 PM UTC

Does it make anyone else nervous that the government keeps promising the AIG roller coaster won’t jump the tracks?

Treasury reiterated Monday that it expects to make money on its least popular bailout, if it’s possible to pick one: the September 2008 rescue of AIG and the 274 subsequent restructurings of that arrangement.

Is the trend Geithner's friend here?

Monday announcement came after AIG said it sold two units, one in an initial public offering and one to insurer MetLife , for $37 billion. The sales will help New York-based AIG to whittle down the sum it owes the government for its bailout two years ago, which once was valued as high as $182 billion.

Treasury said, not for the first time, that it could make $17 billion on the AIG bailout should the current market prices hold up long enough for the government to get out of what will soon be a 92% stake in the insurer.

That’s based on the assumption that the government will be able to complete a complicated restructuring of its dealings with AIG as announced in September with the concurrence of another major AIG lender, the Federal Reserve Board of New York.

Based on current market prices and the value of the assets supporting the FRBNY’s loans to and preferred interests in AIG and Maiden Lane II and III, the USG expects to earn a profit on its loans to and investments in AIG assuming the restructuring announced on September 30 is completed.

That’s true enough as far as it goes — though that expectation conveniently ignores the reality that stocks go up and down, as the Special Investigator General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program pointed out in a report last month.

Although the recapitalization plan does crate the possibility of an accelerated government exit from its ownership interest in AIG, Treasury’s projections are subject to a degree of uncertainty. First … the recapitalization plan is enormously complex and subject to a significant number of conditions that may or may not be fulfilled. Second, Treasury’s loss estimate is based on multiplying the share price of AIG’s common stock by the number of shares Treasury expects to hold at the end of the recapitalization process. This calculation does not account for the volatility in AIG’s stock price, which may result in losses or gains that are either greater or less than the projected amounts.

And just to get the right to roll those dice, taxpayers had to pony up an additional $22 billion in TARP funds and swap $49 billion of supposedly dividend-paying preferred shares for riskier common stock, SigTARP noted.

So the government may well in the end profit from the AIG bailout. But saying so over and over again now isn’t going to make the next few years any less nervewracking.