16 September 2008

AIG's Ratings Cut by S&P, Moody's, Threatening Quest for Funds

Once AIG goes, its really over!

By Hugh Son

Sept. 16 (Bloomberg) -- American International Group Inc.'s credit ratings were downgraded by Standard & Poor's and Moody's Investors Service, threatening efforts to raise emergency funds to keep the company afloat.

The ratings reductions occurred after two people familiar with the situation said that the biggest U.S. insurer by assets is seeking $70 billion to $75 billion in loans arranged by Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. to replenish capital.

AIG Chief Executive Officer Robert Willumstad has tried to raise cash to prevent the cuts, which may trigger more than $13 billion in collateral calls from debt investors who bought swaps, the insurer said in an Aug. 6 filing. AIG's shares plunged 61 percent yesterday in New York trading, dragging the company's market value to $12.8 billion.

Wall Street's biggest firms convened at the New York Federal Reserve for a fourth consecutive day, this time to discuss AIG, which sold the banks and other investors protection on $441 billion of fixed-income assets, including $57.8 billion in securities tied to subprime mortgages.

``I don't know of a major bank that doesn't have some significant exposure to AIG,'' said Kenneth Lewis, chief executive officer of Bank of America Corp., in a CNBC interview. An AIG collapse would ``be a much bigger problem than most that we've looked at,'' he said.

AIG has declined 92 percent this year in New York trading, making it the worst performer in the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

Credit Ratings Cut

The MSCI Asia-Pacific Index declined 4.4 percent, the biggest drop since January today, as investors fled to the safety of Treasuries. S&P lowered AIG's long-term counterparty rating three grades to A- from AA-, citing a ``combination of reduced flexibility in meeting additional collateral needs and concerns over increasing residential mortgage-related losses.''

The ratings assessor also lowered AIG's short-term counterparty credit rating by two levels to A-2 from the top A-1+ rating, and cut its counterparty credit and financial strength ratings on most of AIG's insurance operating subsidiaries by three notches to A+ from AA+. The ratings remain on watch for a possible further downgrade, S&P said.

AIG's senior unsecured debt rating was downgraded by Moody's to A2 from Aa3. Moody's said in a statement that its decision was made ``in light of the continuing deterioration in the U.S. housing market and the consequent impact on the group's liquidity and capital position due to its related investment and derivative exposures.'' Moody's placed AIG's long-term and Prime-1 short- term ratings on review for possible downgrades.

Calling for Collateral

``AIG poses a systemic risk because it's a large counterparty in the financial system,'' said Prasad Patkar, who helps manage the equivalent of $1.8 billion at Platypus Asset Management in Sydney. ``It's too big to be allowed to fail.''

A downgrade of AIG's long-term senior debt ratings to A1 by Moody's and A+ by S&P would permit counterparties to make additional calls for up to approximately $13.3 billion of collateral, while a downgrade to A2 by Moody's, and to A by S&P would permit counterparties to call for approximately $1.2 billion of additional collateral, AIG said in the Aug. 6 filing.

``If either of Moody's or S&P downgraded AIG's ratings to A1 or A+, respectively, the estimated collateral call would be for up to approximately $10.5 billion, while a downgrade to A2 or A, respectively, by either of the two rating agencies would permit counterparties to call for up to approximately $1.1 billion of additional collateral,'' the filing said.

AIG has already posted $16.5 billion in collateral through July 31. A downgrade could also set off early termination of swaps with $4.6 billion in payments, AIG had said.

$20 Billion Lifeline

The Fed urged AIG to seek private capital and discouraged the insurer from expecting a loan from the central bank, according to two people with knowledge of the discussions. Goldman and JPMorgan are working with AIG to determine how much the New York-based insurer needs, said two more people, all of whom declined to be identified because negotiations are private.

The loan would involve temporary financing, a so-called bridge loan, through a syndicate of banks, and there's no assurance an agreement will be worked out, one of the people said.

``We're still working on a number of alternatives,'' said Nicholas Ashooh, spokesman for AIG. JPMorgan's Brian Marchiony and Goldman's Lucas van Praag declined to comment.

AIG was given special permission to access $20 billion of capital in its subsidiaries to free liquidity, New York Governor David Paterson said yesterday. The move gives the insurer time to work on securing more capital, he said.


The insurer ``needs immediate access to capital'' and will be able to swap illiquid assets to free up holdings at its subsidiaries, Paterson said. Each time AIG uses assets as collateral for cash loans, the insurance department will examine the transaction to protect policyholders.

``We have seen some of the companies that serve as the bedrock of our financial system unraveling before our eyes,'' Paterson said.

The Fed has hired Morgan Stanley to examine alternatives for AIG, a person familiar with the situation said. Morgan Stanley will review what role, if any, the government should play in helping the insurer, said the person, who declined to be identified because the talks are confidential.

``The bigger problem here is that AIG is a bigger balance sheet, the tentacles go further and we don't have the same relationship between the Fed and an insurance company as we do with some of the others,'' said Liz Ann Sonders, chief investment strategist at Charles Schwab & Co. in a Bloomberg Television interview.

Disposals Expected

AIG may report writedowns of $30 billion resulting in its ``worst quarter yet'' for the period ending Sept. 30 if Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.'s bankruptcy leads to distressed sales of mortgage assets, providing lower market values for AIG's holdings, Citigroup Inc. analyst Joshua Shanker said yesterday in a note. He downgraded AIG to ``hold'' from ``buy.''

The company may consider selling units including American General Finance, AIG's consumer lender, which could fetch more than $6 billion if the unit sold for twice its book value. AIG Investments could sell for more than $3 billion if it sold for 2.5 percent of clients' assets under management. The company's stake in reinsurer Transatlantic Holdings Inc. is worth about $2.25 billion, based on today's share price.

Bank of America analyst Alain Karaoglan said Willumstad, 63, should reconsider the decision to keep its aircraft-leasing unit, International Lease Finance Corp., which could sell for $7 billion to $14 billion.

Fannie, Freddie

AIG rejected investments from buyout firms KKR & Co., TPG Inc. and J.C. Flowers & Co., people familiar with the talks said. Billionaire Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc., is no longer talking with AIG about an investment in the insurer, CNBC reported today, citing people familiar with the situation it didn't identified.

The insurer raised $20.3 billion in May by selling debt and equity, diluting the holdings of long-time investors. It's ``very hard to predict'' if AIG will need more capital, Willumstad said on Aug. 7.

Last week, the U.S. Treasury seized Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two biggest sources of funding for U.S. mortgages, wiping out most of the value of their shares. AIG had $550 million to $600 million of preferred shares in the companies, said a person who declined to be identified because the insurer hadn't made a formal announcement.

Hurricane Ike, which struck Texas Sept. 13, may also pressure AIG, costing insurers $6 billion to $18 billion, the most since the record storm season of 2005, according to firms that specialize in gauging the effects of disasters.

AIG's former CEO and Chairman Maurice ``Hank'' Greenberg, who controls the largest stake in the insurer, has ``repeatedly offered'' to assist the firm, his spokesman Glen Rochkind said yesterday.

Greenberg, 83, saw his holdings decline by $3.1 billion last week. He controls 11 percent of AIG shares through two investment firms and personal holdings.

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