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AIG Unit Sale Would Dent Debt Load

Stocks in this article: AIG

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- American International Group (AIG) appears close to taking another incremental step toward paying off its government tab, as the market awaits details of fourth-quarter performance.

AIG is in talks with MetLife (MET) to sell its Alico life-insurance unit for roughly $15 billion, according to anonymously-sourced media reports. Alico is one of two units slated for a sale or spin-off in order to pay down $25 billion of AIG's enormous debt to the federal government.

But while the insurance giant is making progress in that regard, its stock movement continues to be less than logical. AIG's market value represents just one-fifth of what the Alico unit is reportedly being priced at.

That may be because the market is finally pricing in the fact that shareholders don't have a meaningful stake until the entirety of AIG's $70 billion in government debt -- not including interest and dividends -- is paid off. Even then, it's unclear where stockholders will stand.

AIG has lost nearly a quarter of its market value since the start of the year, closing at $23.14 on Tuesday. The price is far from highs above $55 hit in August. Late summer was a period of frenzied purchases of so-called "zombie stocks," like AIG, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, that have since taken a beating.

In the meantime, AIG has been in the headlines more for the government's handling of its counterparty payouts than for progress it is making. An article in the New York Times over Goldman Sachs' (GS) hard-bargaining tactics stirred controversy anew this week. But while Goldman has remained in the crosshairs for receiving one of the largest derivatives payments, of $14 billion, AIG has largely stayed out of the fray.

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