-- As head of a company that has taken the largest financial lifeline from U.S. taxpayers, Edward Liddy knows best if the assistance so far will be sufficient. But American International Group's aig CEO admits that given the choppiness of financial markets, he can't assure that AIG will not dip into government finances again.
"I wish I could say yes," Liddy said Tuesday in an interview with USA TODAY.
On Monday, AIG reported its worst quarterly loss ever: $24.47 billion for the third quarter 2008. It also accessed U.S. government money for the third time — getting $40 billion from the U.S. Treasury in exchange for preferred shares, raising the U.S. government's stake in AIG to more than $150 billion.
But Liddy points out the aid is not coming cheaply. The insurance giant also reworked the terms of the two previous loans it received, dropping the interest rate to 6% from 10%. But it also will pay a 10% annual dividend on the $40 billion in preferred shares. "We are paying the taxpayer handsomely for the help we're getting," says Liddy.
Not everyone is convinced taxpayers will come out ahead. "Whenever the government thinks it has a handle on AIG, the problems get greater … even AIG cannot model its own risks," says Richard Burson, professor of finance at Wharton Business School. That's because it has become extremely difficult to value the complex derivatives debt business that AIG got into, and the company has had to pony up billions in cash in recent weeks.
"The announcement of Bailout Two for AIG is an admission that Bailout One did not work," says Donald Light, senior analyst at Celent, a financial research and consulting firm.
Tuesday, Liddy had more controversy to deal with after an ABC News report that AIG held a sales meeting at a luxury resort in Phoenix last week. Liddy defended AIG, saying that it bore just 10% of the costs of the conference of brokers and consultants who sell financial products from AIG and other insurers, and that the meeting was essential to doing business. "Anything we do is incredibly scrutinized, and it's damaging to our employees," an aggravated Liddy said, adding that AIG has canceled 160 events so far. It has come under heavy criticism from lawmakers for extravagant retreats for employees even as it was taking emergency funding.
Congressman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., senior member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, was one lawmaker unhappy with the latest news. "AIG is coming to the government claiming to be in critical condition … but they are still going out partying and acting as healthy as ever," he said. "We cannot afford to keep throwing money into a bucket with a hole in it."
Liddy is looking ahead and says he'll start selling AIG's assets in the next couple of months, including a life insurance unit in Asia and an aircraft leasing firm. "We will have thinned out, and emerge a smaller but stronger company," he said.