American International Group Inc.'s (AIG - Get Report) new CEO, appointed in May amid pressure from activists including Carl Icahn, is getting rid of specific stock-buyback targets to focus on investment in the business's growth.
The strategy marks a shift from predecessor Peter Hancock, who had promised in early 2016 to return $25 billion to shareholders while resisting Icahn's pressure to break up AIG to escape stricter oversight after a $182 billion government bailout during the financial crisis.
Over the past 18 months, the insurer has returned $20 billion to investors through buybacks and dividends, including $2.7 billion in the three months through June. While it's authorized to repurchase another $2.5 billion, it will be "opportunistic" in deciding how much of that to spend, Brian Duperreault told investors in his first earnings call as CEO on Thursday, Aug. 3
"My priority is to take this capital and find ways that we can increase the franchise value of this company," he said. "If we can't, obviously we would return it. But that would be something I would prefer not to do if I can find something better to use it for."
Ideally, executives would invest money in "acquisitions that are strategically complementary," he said. "I have a track record of building value through acquisitions. And you can expect that I bring that experience and philosophy to AIG."
Citing his experience in acquisitions, Duppereault pointed out opportunities internationally, in personal coverage, life insurance and the small to middle markets in the U.S.
"We don't want to double down on things we already do," he said. "We want to balance what we're doing with other things. So I'm going to be primarily looking for strategic balance that gives us ways to deploy capital when the things we do have issues."
While it's important for any businesses the company purchases to add profit, they must deliver more than just that, he said.
"I also like accretion in terms of people and capabilities and spread," Duperreault explained. "And so that accretion has to be more than just a number. Can't just be the profit. It better give us a whole lot more capability than we have now."
Any deals AIG makes are likely to be "bolt-on" purchases that round out its product mix rather than transformative takeovers, Cathy Seifert, an analyst with CFRA Research, said in a telephone interview.
In the meantime, AIG's s higher-than-expected profit in the second quarter illustrates the value of its existing array of businesses, Duperreault noted, reiterating statements when he took the job that he doesn't intend to break up the company.
Operating income after taxes totaled $1.53 a share, topping the $1.20 average estimate from analysts surveyed by FactSet. Net income, including $69 million in capital losses, dropped 41% to $1.13 billion, the company said in a statement.
Quarterly profit at the New York-based firm was driven by a 33% gain in earnings at its consumer business, which benefited from cost cuts combined with strong personal insurance results and higher policy fees in group and individual retirement, the company said.
Earnings in the smaller commercial division, which offers products from management liability coverage to marine and aerospace insurance, dropped 24% to $716 million as property-insurance losses increased.
Companywide revenue dropped 14% to $12.5 billion. "Though weak top line results and mixed underwriting trends temper our view, we applaud AIG's restructuring progress," Seifert said in a note to clients.
Seifert, who boosted her 12-month price target by 7.1% to $75, has said Duperreault -- a former lieutenant of legendary AIG chief Maurice "Hank" Greenberg -- is one of the few people capable of completing the company's restructuring.
AIG has already shed United Guaranty, a Turkish insurance operation, a 20% interest in Ascot Underwriting Holdings and a 95.3% interest in NSM Insurance.
The company's stock rose 16 cents to $66.06 in New York trading on Thursday, widening a previous gain of 8.1% since Duperreault's appointment that outpaced the broader S&P 500.
The CEO's predecessor at AIG announced his departure in March, citing a lack of support from stockholders. While Hancock had resisted Icahn's break-up proposal, he eventually offered Icahn and hedge fund manager John Paulson board seats to head off a proxy fight.
Paulson has since left the board, though Icahn's designee, Samuel Merksamer, was re-elected to his seat in June. Icahn held a $3 billion stake in the insurer as of the end of the March.
The drumbeat of calls for a breakup "has died down a little," Seifert said in the interview. Duperreault "comes in with a high degree of credibility," she said, and has likely convinced the company's activist investors to give him some time "to articulate and put out a strategy."
Updated from 5:35 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017.
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