AIG: Back in black

February 25, 2011, 3:18 AM UTC

No need to get your eyes checked. AIG just reported a huge profit.

In a sight many of us never thought we’d see, the bailed-out insurer AIG (AIG) returned to the black Thursday, posting an $11 billion profit for the fourth quarter of 2010 and $10 billion in earnings for the full year.

Gotta start somewhere

It was just two years ago – how time flies! – that AIG posted a $100 billion loss. The 2008 loss, of course, came just a few months after the government wrote the first in a long series of checks that kept AIG from imploding in a heap of derivatives-fueled losses.

But those days are long gone. AIG said it made $16.60 a share for the fourth quarter, reversing the year-ago loss of, um, $65.51 a share. What a company.

AIG shares rose 59 cents each in after-hours trading to $41.

The New York-based company had help in its long-awaited return to profitability, of course. The latest quarter included $13.5 billion of gains on the businesses AIG sold to raise cash and pay down some of those bailout debts. The government dangled as much as $182 billion in aid to the company, but taxpayer exposure is now down in the $50 billion range, mostly in shares held by Treasury.

On an operating basis – excluding the proceeds of those sales, a loss the company took to strengthen its reserves and gains and losses on AIG’s investment portfolios, as well as other cats and dogs – AIG lost $2.2 billion in the latest quarter. Well, you can’ t have everything.

Even so, the company was eager to trumpet its latest success. Having the government own 92% of your stock makes it all the more imperative to celebrate every step forward, it seems.

“We completed several key restructuring milestones in the quarter and we remain focused on long-term growth and building value at our ongoing insurance operations and other businesses,” said CEO Robert Benmosche. “We remain extremely grateful to the taxpayers and have made significant progress since January 2010 towards independence from this support.”

The taxpayers will surely feel the same way once Treasury is able to sell off its AIG shares at a profit, something officials have been saying they would like to start doing this year. Benmosche may well address the timing of those sales on a conference call scheduled for tomorrow morning.