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AIG Unit Sale Would Dent Debt Load

AIG appears close to taking another incremental step toward paying off its government tab, as the market awaits details of fourth-quarter performance.

NEW YORK (

TheStreet

) --

American International Group

(AIG) - Get Report

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) - Get Report

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

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, 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) - Get Report

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.

The insurer may strike a deal to sell Alico as soon as Thursday, and may report fourth-quarter results soon after, though no date has yet been announced. Then it's got to sell or spin off another unit, American International Assurance, as part of its plan to pay down debt to the Federal Reserve.

Then it's got to figure out how to close out the remaining $35 billion credit facility from the Fed, as well as the Treasury Department's $30 billion credit line and $40 billion preferred stock investment. All the while, AIG's financial products unit is still unwinding a massive bundle of remaining derivatives contracts that was over $1 trillion at last report.

CEO Robert Benmosche had put all asset sales and restructuring plans on hold when he took over the insurer in August, to reassess values and priorities. He has since promised to hold off on selling businesses until the best prices can be realized, but acknowledged in a statement last month that near-term results will be rocky at best.

"We continue to focus on stabilizing and strengthening our businesses, but expect continued volatility in reported results in the coming quarters," Benmosche said, "due in part to charges related to ongoing restructuring activities."

--

Written by Lauren Tara LaCapra in New York