Profit on AIG climbs to $22.7 billion with share sale

, Bloomberg

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Robert-Willumstad
Robert Willumstad

American International Group Inc.'s rescue has come to an end with the U.S. raising $7.6 billion in its final offering of the insurer's shares, four years after a bailout that fueled resentment against Wall Street.

The Treasury Department is selling 234.2 million shares at $32.50 each in the sixth offering since the 2008 rescue. The proceeds boost the U.S. profit on the rescue that began in 2008 to $22.7 billion, according to a statement Tuesday from the Treasury, which injected capital through the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

The U.S. took over the New York-based company in a 2008 bailout that swelled to $182.3 billion to save the global economy from collapse. AIG has sold more than $65 billion of assets to help repay the rescue, while chief executive officer Robert Benmosche scaled back from the derivative bets that almost destroyed the firm. He's focusing on property-casualty coverage globally and life and retirement products in the U.S.

"Treasury can claim victory, AIG can be free of TARP, and AIG will begin to trade on its merits," said Josh Stirling, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co., in note to investors. Investors in the latest offering "bought this recovering, but still controversial name at a discount from the government."

'Big Risk'

The U.S. owned as much as 92 percent of AIG after saving a firm that insured 100,000 municipalities, retirement plans and companies and was counterparty to some of the biggest banks. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke has said saving AIG after it was hobbled by mortgage-related bets made him "more angry" than any other measure the government undertook to counter the deepest financial crisis since the Great Depression.

"There weren't a lot of options, let's face it," Robert Willumstad, CEO of New York-based AIG when the firm was rescued, said in an interview last month. "It was controversial, it was a big risk, but one would argue today that the government got its money back and a healthy profit."

The rescue began on Sept. 16, 2008, the day after Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. filed for bankruptcy. The initial bailout failed to stabilize the company and was revised at least three times to give AIG more capital and additional time to repay. In March 2009, the insurer reported a record loss of more than $60 billion as mortgage-backed securities slumped.

Obama Outraged

Bernanke wasn't the only leader to fault AIG. Dana Perino, a spokeswoman for President George W. Bush's White House, called "despicable" expenses from a conference sponsored by AIG for independent agents at a California resort after receiving U.S. aid. President Barack Obama said bonus payments to traders at the money-losing Financial Products unit were an "outrage."

Then-CEO Edward Liddy told Congress in 2009 of threats, including one that said AIG executives should be "executed with piano wire around their necks." AIG stripped its logo from employee badges and charge cards after staff were harassed.

"It really stuck in the public's craw that trillions of dollars of financial support were being provided to the commanding heights of the American financial system, and those guys were still paying themselves huge bonuses," said Jim Millstein, the former Treasury chief restructuring officer and now CEO of advisory firm Millstein & Co. "I have real sympathy with the public in this regard."

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