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American International Group Inc. owes Wall Street's biggest firms about $10 billion for speculative trades that have soured, according to people familiar with the matter, underscoring the challenges the insurer faces as it seeks to recover under a U.S. government rescue plan.
The details of the trades go beyond what AIG has explained to investors about the nature of its risk-taking operations, which led to the firm's near-collapse in September. In the past, AIG has said that its trades involved helping financial institutions and counterparties insure their securities holdings. The speculative trades, engineered by the insurer's financial-products unit, represent the first sign that AIG may have been gambling with its own capital.
The soured trades and the amount lost on them haven't been explicitly detailed before. In a recent quarterly filing, AIG does note exposure to speculative bets without going into detail. An AIG spokesman characterizes the trades not as speculative bets but as "credit protection instruments." He said that exposure has been fully disclosed and amounts to less than $10 billion of AIG's $71.6 billion exposure to derivative contracts on debt pools known as collateralized debt obligations as of Sept. 30.
AIG's financial-products unit, operating more like a Wall Street trading firm than a conservative insurer selling protection against defaults on seemingly low-risk securities, put billions of dollars of the company's money at risk through speculative bets on the direction of pools of mortgage assets and corporate debt. AIG now finds itself in a position of having to raise funds to pay off its partners.
The fresh $10 billion bill is particularly challenging because the terms of the current $150 billion rescue package for AIG don't cover those debts. The structure of the soured deals raises questions about how the insurer will raise the funds to pay the debts. The Federal Reserve, which lent AIG billions of dollars to stay afloat, has no immediate plans to help AIG pay off the speculative trades.
The outstanding $10 billion bill is in addition to the tens of billions of taxpayer money that AIG has paid out over the past 16 months in collateral to Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and other trading partners on trades called credit-default swaps. These instruments required AIG to insure trading partners, known on Wall Street as counterparties, against any losses in their holdings of securities backed by pools of mortgages and other assets. With the value of those mortgage holdings plunging in the past year and increasing the risk of default, AIG has been required to put up additional collateral -- often cash payments.
AIG's problem: The rescue plan calls for a company funded largely by the Federal Reserve to buy about $65 billion in troubled CDO securities underlying the credit-default swaps that AIG had written, so as to free AIG from its obligations under those contracts. But there are no actual securities backing the speculative positions that the insurer is losing money on. Instead, these bets were made on the performance of pools of mortgage assets and corporate debt, and AIG now finds itself in a position of having to raise funds to pay off its partners because those assets have fallen significantly in value.
The Fed first stepped in to rescue AIG in mid-September with an $85 billion loan when the collateral demands from banks and losses from other investments threatened to send the firm into bankruptcy court. A bankruptcy filing would have created losses and problems for financial institutions and policyholders all over the world that were relying AIG to insure them against the unexpected.
By November, AIG had used up a large chunk of the government money it had borrowed to meet counterparties' collateral calls and began to look like it would have difficulty repaying the loan. On Nov. 10 the government stepped in again with a revised bailout package. This time, the Treasury said it would pump $40 billion of capital into AIG in exchange for interest payments and proceeds of any asset sales, while the Fed agreed to lend as much as $30 billion to finance the purchases of AIG-insured CDOs at market prices.
The $10 billion in other IOUs stems from market wagers that weren't contracts to protect securities held by banks or other investors against default. Rather, they are from AIG's exposures to speculative investments, which were essentially bets on the performance of bundles of derivatives linked to subprime mortgages, commercial real-estate bonds and corporate bonds.
These bets aren't covered by the pool to buy troubled securities, and many of these bets have lost value during the past few weeks, triggering more collateral calls from its counterparties. Some of AIG's speculative bets were tied to a group of collateralized debt obligations named "Abacus," created by Goldman Sachs.
The Abacus deals were investment portfolios designed to track the values of derivatives linked to billions of dollars in residential mortgage debt. In what amounted to a side bet on the value of these holdings, AIG agreed to pay Goldman if the mortgage debt declined in value and would receive money if it rose.
As part of the revamped bailout package, the Fed and AIG formed a new company, Maiden Lane III, to purchase CDOs with a principal value of $65 billion on which AIG had written credit-default-swap protection. These CDOs currently are worth less than half their original values and had been responsible for the bulk of AIG's troubles and collateral payments through early November.
Fed officials believed that purchasing the underlying securities from AIG's counterparties would relieve the insurer of the financial stress if it had to continue making collateral payments. The plan has resulted in banks in North America and Europe emerging as winners: They have kept the collateral they previously received from AIG and received the rest of the securities' value in the form of cash from Maiden Lane III.
The government's rescue of AIG helped prevent many of its policyholders and counterparties from incurring immediate losses on those traditional insurance contracts. It also has been a double boon to banks and financial institutions that specifically bought protection on now shaky mortgage securities and are effectively being made whole on those positions by AIG and the Federal Reserve.
Some $19 billion of those payouts were made to two dozen counterparties just between the time AIG first received federal government assistance in mid-September and early November when the government had to step in again, according to a confidential document and people familiar with the matter. Nearly three-quarters of that went to French bank Société Générale SA, Goldman, Deutsche Bank AG, Crédit Agricole SA's Calyon investment-banking unit, and Merrill Lynch & Co. Société Générale, Calyon and Merrill declined to comment. A Goldman spokesman says the firm's exposure to AIG is "immaterial" and its positions are supported by collateral.
As of Nov. 25, Maiden Lane III had acquired CDOs with an original value of $46.1 billion from AIG's counterparties and had entered into agreements to purchase $7.4 billion more. It is still in talks over $11.2 billion.
Did we not bail them out 4 months ago? They want 10+ billion dollars more.
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