Bending the Tax Code, and Lifting A.I.G.’s Profit
By ANDREW ROSS SORKIN, The New York Times
February 27, 2012, 8:55 pm
Last week, the American International Group reported a whopping $19.8 billion profit for its fourth quarter. It was a quite a feat for a company that was on its death bed just a little over three years ago, so sick that it needed a huge taxpayer bailout.
But if you dug into the numbers, it quickly became clear that $17.7 billion of that profit was pure fantasy – a tax benefit, er, gift, from the United States government. The company made only $1.6 billion during the quarter from actual operations. Yet A.I.G. not only received a tax benefit, it is unlikely to pay a cent of taxes this year, nor by some estimates, for at least a decade.
(O)fficials said A.I.G.’s tax benefit would help taxpayers because it would raise the insurer’s share price. That may be true, but that assumes that the government is able to sell its shares and exit its investment. That’s still a big “if.”
Why Treasury is being so nice to AIG
By Felix Salmon, Reuters
February 28, 2012
But there’s something else going on here too, which is the optics of the AIG bailout. The New York Fed today announced that it had finally exited its Maiden Lane II portfolio – the toxic securities bought at a discount from AIG in the 2008 bailout – at a healthy profit of $2.8 billion. It held on to those securities in May 2011, when AIG itself offered to buy them back at a much more modest profit for the Fed. And when forced to choose sides between AIG and the Fed in 2011, Treasury sided with AIG. At all times, Treasury wants what’s best for AIG’s share price, so that it can, hopefully sooner rather than later, sell off its entire 77% stake in the company at some kind of profit.
It’s already taken longer than Treasury would have liked: there was a feeling when I spoke to Millstein that the sale of AIG might be reasonably imminent, and yet here we are, more than 16 months later, and we don’t seem to be all that much closer to such an event. So unless and until AIG gets sold, expect Treasury to continue to shower it with as much regulatory forbearance as it can possibly corral.
I’m sure there are a lot of people at Treasury who would dearly love the company to be fully privatized before the election, and there’s essentially no chance that’ll happen if the share price is much below the break-even point of $29 per share. We’re close, now, and I’m sure that Treasury wishes that AIG had managed to buy back those Maiden Lane II assets on the cheap so that the share price could have been even higher. There’s still time to privatize AIG while Tim Geithner is still Treasury secretary. And Treasury will do everything it can to make that happen, if it can do so without exiting at a loss.