For over a year it has been clear to me that something had to give in the financial markets, and it has and the question is how much we now bail out. We are told the world will collapse if we don't, and yet I thought we were not going to help A.I.G. and now we are.
This article interests me, because it seems we are helping a global company that is rooted in Asia. This is very peculiar. I continue to read that the intent of the Republicans is to bankrupt this country so we can't afford social programs. I see no way that helps the world and I don't understand it. What I do see is to talk of isolating this country as Palin does is ludicrous. There are no longer any small town values if there ever were. I know Barack Obama will make a difference. I believe in him, and the tangle of what he inherits is frightening, and I believe we can ease through with a leader at the helm.
A.I.G. Is Still Profitable, With a Wide Array of Enterprises
American International Group and its assortment of businesses run the gamut from aircraft leasing to life insurance for Indians to retirement plans for elementary schoolteachers. Parts of the company have been battered by the credit crisis.
But many of its operations may put up for sale — as the Federal Reserve signaled they would be when it announced its rescue of the company Tuesday night — and they could prove attractive to prospective investors and competitors. The main insurance unit has remained profitable, as has the aircraft leasing arm.
The great assortment of assets reflects the determination of the man who built A.I.G., Maurice R. Greenberg, to create an global empire operating in complementary businesses. Not even the company’s annual reports to shareholders or its regulatory filings offer a chart of its complex corporate structure.
Though its name is American, the company is rooted in Asia. According to company lore, its founder, Cornelius Vander Starr, a World War I veteran, traveled to Asia with only 300 Japanese yen (less than $3 by today’s exchange rates) in his pocket and started the firm in Shanghai in 1919.
With a partner, he sold marine and fire insurance and expanded rapidly throughout the Philippines, Indonesia and China by hiring locals as agents and managers, a business strategy A.I.G. uses today. Nearly half of A.I.G.’s 116,000 direct employees — about 62,000 people — are in Asia.
In 1960, Mr. Greenberg joined the company, following his mentor, an executive at Continental Casualty Company in Chicago. Mr. Greenberg focused on making giant commercial deals, increasing its share of the life insurance business and writing what were, decades ago, unusual types of coverage, like insurance against kidnapping and protection from suits against a company’s officers and directors.
A.I.G.’s general insurance business, which accounted for nearly half its $110 billion in revenue last year, has held up well. A.I.G. claims that its companies are the largest underwriters of commercial and industrial insurance in the United States. Its policies cover everything from environmental liability for companies to auto insurance.
A.I.G.’s asset management group — it includes a private banking subsidiary for the wealthy, a broker dealer and another unit that manages mutual funds — has had losses, but it is not a unit that pushed the company to the brink. That group reported its first loss in years in the last quarter of 2007; in the second quarter of this year, it reported an operating loss of $314 million, which is modest these days.
Then there is the aircraft leasing business, which owns more than 900 planes and is part of the company’s financial services group. The company stated in its annual filing with regulators that the leasing unit would buy 73 new aircraft this year. That unit is profitable, according to the most recent report for the quarter ended June 30.
A.I.G.’s problems rest in the company’s London-based financial products unit, part of its financial services group, which is exposed to securities tied to the value of home loans — the same kind of securities that forced Lehman Brothers into Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings on Monday. The financial products group sold credit-default swaps, complex financial contracts allowing buyers to insure securities backed by mortgages. Many of the buyers were European banks. As home values have fallen, the value of the underlying mortgages has declined, and A.I.G. has had to reduce the value of the securities on its books.
The company has other forms of real estate exposure. One subsidiary, American General Finance, makes home loans and has suffered along with the housing market. Another subsidiary, the United Guaranty Corporation, provides mortgage guarantee insurance. Still other units buy mortgage-backed securities directly.
“We’ve always been opportunistic,” Mr. Greenberg said, responding to a question about whether the company would buy other insurers struggling in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. “When we see opportunities, we will never change. At A.I.G., it’s part of our culture.”
Geographically, A.I.G. is sprawling. One of its life insurance companies operates in 50 countries and other units offers other products, like health insurance and retirement services, in countries like Japan and the United States. It claims to be the largest life insurance company in the Philippines. Its private bank is based in Zurich.
A.I.G. ’s Asian asset management business has $115 billion in assets, and the company peddles mutual funds in the Philippines, Hong Kong and Singapore and investment trusts in Taiwan.
The company is a sizable investor in Asian development projects, from toll roads in the Philippines to Seoul’s international finance center. It is also a major investor in the Taiwan government. As of February, A.I.G. held $14.2 billion in Taiwan government bonds, 13.1 percent of Taiwan’s total issued government bonds.
Though he left the company a few years ago after an accounting scandal, Mr. Greenberg’s fortune remains locked up with A.I.G., in which he has a stake of about 11 percent through various holdings, according to Bloomberg News.
Early in 2005, questions arose about financial transactions that had the effect of making the company’s earnings look better. Mr. Greenberg resigned as chief executive after regulators sent a wave of subpoenas to the company; eventually A.I.G. restated earnings covering a five-year period. His successor tried to restore confidence in the company but his efforts did not meet with investor approval and he was replaced this summer, after the company announced that it lost $7.8 billion in the first quarter of the year, the biggest loss in its history. In August it announced that it had lost another $5.3 billion in the second quarter.
Heather Timmons reported from New Delhi.