8. AIG Goes Postal

( 3/06/09)

Here's a Five Dumbest riddle: What is government-backed, costs 42 cents and continues to take a licking?

No, not a postage stamp. It's a share of AIG ( AIG).

The American International Group, once the world's largest insurer, set a new record Monday when it reported a fourth-quarter loss of $61.7 billion, the largest in corporate history. For the full year in 2008, AIG reported a loss of $99.3 billion, or $37.84 a share, as it felt the brunt of continued "severe" credit market deterioration and charges related to its restructuring.

AIG shares closed at 42 cents Monday, or the price of a single first-class postage stamp, down more than 99% from a year ago.

Not to worry though, AIG chieftains. As a reward for your monumentally poor performance, another big, fat government check is already in the mail.

The Treasury Department announced Monday the creation of a new $30 billion equity capital facility in exchange for noncumulative preferred stock in AIG. This latest handout comes on top of the $150 billion it has already lent the insurer. The Treasury and the Federal Reserve also outlined a massive restructuring plan for AIG's existing debt, easing up on terms and accepting payment in the form of preferred stakes in relatively healthy subsidiaries.

The action by the Treasury and Fed marks the fourth time the government has stepped in to help AIG since its initial lifeline in September 2008. In a joint statement, the agencies say their latest restructuring plan is designed to "stabilize this systemically important company" until it can slim it down by selling off its parts.

In other words, AIG remains too big to fail even now that it's 78% owned by the federal government. And neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night will keep more rounds of taxpayer dollars from being delivered into this financial black hole.

Five Dumbest Final Thoughts -- Like the postman, AIG always rings twice when it needs money. And we fully expect it to ring again soon.

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