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AIG: The Good, the Bad, and the Convoluted

American International Group has more than its share of headlines each week, and it's tough to decipher them all. The insurer was run for more than 30 years by former CEO Hank Greenberg as a puzzle only he could solve, and the confusion left behind when he was ousted in 2005 has brought his successors, regulators and would-be saviors to their knees.

But here's a guess as to what's going on.

The Good: A.M. Best Co. has affirmed the financial ratings of most of AIG's property and casualty and life and health insurance subsidiaries. Unlike the big three raters - Standard & Poor's, Moody's Investors Service and Fitch - A.M. Best deals largely with insurers and makes it its business to know what's going on at an insurance company.
A.M. Best mentions several AIG units, including Chartis, Lexington and AIU, and says its ratings reflect their "supportive level of risk-adjusted capitalization, improved underwriting, and operating performance throughout the third quarter" and their "prominent position" as "global providers of commercial insurance."

But A.M. Best also throws in some "negative factors" such as franchise damage from AIG's near collapse and the potential for price softening in core businesses. Bear in mind, too, that these businesses are only part of AIG, and A.M. Best focuses primarily on an insurer's ability to pay claims.

The Bad: Bloomberg News reports that the sale of AIG's investment unit to Hong Kong billionaire Richard Li's Pacific Century Group has been delayed since AIG clients asked for more information about the new owner. It is now scheduled for the end of January. Also, its aircraft leasing unit was downgraded to "junk" by Moody's.

Also on the negative side, lawsuits keep popping up as current and former business partners' sense weakness. One is by a financial planner who accused AIG of "widespread corporate fraud," a reference to the charges by former New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, who claimed Greenberg cooked the books. That suit has tentatively been dismissed by a California judge, but the financial planner has been given permission to amend the suit.

Another is by a Toronto real estate investment firm and involves a $1.2 billion deal engineered by AIG's financial products unit, according to Business Insurance. That unit, which caused the company's collapse, is being phased out, but lawyers could make a living off it for years to come.

The Convoluted: AIG plans a public offering in Hong Kong for American International Assurance, its Asian life insurance business. The Financial Times says the offering, which should be completed in the second quarter, would raise between $10 billion and $20 billion.

AIA and another Asian unit, Alico, were spun off into special purpose entities and are basically owned by the U.S. government. The first $16 billion realized in the offering would go to repay the U.S. Treasury. So AIG shareholders, who still want to keep their shares at $28, won't see much of a payday, if any.

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