Thursday, November 13, 2008

New AIG Rescue Is Bank Blessing - WSJ

In Wednesday's The Wall Street Journal, there was an informative article regarding the revamping of the AIG loans by the federal government.

New AIG Rescue Is Bank Blessing
Buyers of Insurer's Default Swaps Would Recover Most of Their Money
By Serena Ng and Liam Pleven

Banks in the U.S. and abroad are among the biggest winners in the federal government's revamped $150 billion bailout of American International Group Inc.

Many banks that previously bought protection from the insurer on securities backed by now-troubled mortgage assets stand to recoup the bulk of their investments under a plan by AIG and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to buy around $70 billion of those securities via a new company. These securities are collateralized debt obligations backed by subprime-mortgage bonds, commercial-mortgage loans and other assets.

Banks in the U.S., Europe and Canada bought credit-default swaps on these securities from AIG, which in turn promised to compensate them if the securities defaulted. Defaults haven't been a major problem, but the market values of these CDOs fell sharply over the past year or so.

That enabled the banks to pry roughly $35 billion in collateral from AIG as a result of those declines and downgrades in AIG's own credit ratings. The banks that have sought and received collateral from AIG include Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Merrill Lynch & Co., UBS AG, Deutsche Bank AG and others.

Throughout its AIG rescue efforts during the past two months, the government has had the banks in its sights; it made its initial bailout of AIG in part to avoid potential bank losses that might have threatened the broader financial system.

Under the plan announced Monday, the banks will get to keep the collateral they received from AIG, much of which came when the government made funds available to AIG in September. The banks also will sell the CDOs to the new facility at market prices averaging 50 cents on the dollar. The banks that participate will be compensated for the securities' full, or par, value in exchange for allowing AIG to unwind the credit-default swaps it wrote.

"It's like a home run for some of the banks," says Carlos Mendez, a senior managing director at ICP Capital, a fixed-income investment firm in New York. "They bought insurance from a company that ran into trouble and still managed to get all, or most, of their money back."

The contract cancellations will free the insurer from additional collateral calls on those swaps, which also have been responsible for billions of dollars in write-downs that AIG has logged in recent quarters. The plan is analogous to an insurer buying a house it provided fire insurance on, negating the need for an insurance policy on the home.

A person familiar with the government's rescue plan says it wasn't specifically designed to benefit individual banks at the expense of U.S. taxpayers and AIG, which will end up bearing the risk of the CDOs. However, officials wanted to give banks sufficient incentives to sell the securities so that AIG could cancel the swaps.

Officials also wanted to directly address the parts of AIG's business that were causing the most financial pain to the company. "The continuing deterioration in value of the CDOs ... meant that AIG had to post more and more collateral each day, which was a drain on their resources and potentially a threat to their solvency," says Leslie Rahl, president of Capital Market Risk Advisors, a risk consultancy in New York.

In an interview this week, AIG Chief Executive Edward Liddy said the revised rescue plan "ring-fenced" key problems, including the swaps. It also helps keep these problems from affecting AIG's other businesses, while giving the company more breathing room to sell assets to pay back a large loan from the Fed that is central to the bailout.

The New York Fed will provide as much as $30 billion to buy the multisector CDOs, and AIG will contribute $5 billion.

AIG also will bear the risk for the first $5 billion of losses among the securities purchased. If the assets increase in value or pay off over time, the Fed and AIG will share the benefits, with most of the upside going to taxpayers.

The Fed is leading the negotiations, and most of AIG's counterparties have been contacted. If some banks choose not to cancel the swap contracts, they would still bear the risk that AIG mightn't be able to meet its obligations down the road. But most of AIG's swap counterparties on the multisector CDOs are expected to sell their securities to the new facility and cancel the credit-default-swap contracts.

Even with this deal, AIG will still bear considerable risk under its CDS portfolio, because it continues to hold contracts that protect about $300 billion in securities backed by other types of assets, such as corporate loans. The swaps on the multisector CDOs, however, had been responsible for most of the $40 billion in collateral that AIG had posted on all its swaps through Nov. 5.

Source: The Wall Street Journal

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