Let A Jury Decide Whether Hank Greenberg Is Fit To Still Be Running An Insurance Company (Into The Ground Or Otherwise)By Jon Shazar
There’s an alternative theory of the 2007-2008 financial crisis in which it was just a minor hiccup that would have worked out fine for all concerned if the meddling U.S. government hadn’t been so trigger-happy in bailing out basically sound but momentarily embarrassed financial institutions.1 I mean, you probably won’t actually run into anyone who believes this theory, because it is a pretty loony theory. And yet! It keeps coming up in court, which I guess means the courts are full of loonies, QED.
Obviously Hank Greenberg is the most vocal and delightful proponent of this theory, since he’s been suing the government for ever and ever for taking over AIG when AIG actually would have been just fine with a little eleven-digit low-interest loan from the government. But Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac shareholders have come on strong of late, with weird lobbying for re-privatization of their shares and, now, a lawsuit filed yesterday seeking $41 billion in damages over their bailout.
Insurer American International Group Inc has asked a court to block Maurice “Hank” Greenberg’s efforts to sue the U.S. government on AIG’s behalf, saying its former CEO has not proven he should have the right to do so. Earlier this year, AIG drew sharp criticism from members of Congress and an outraged public when the firm considered the possibility of joining Greenberg’s lawsuit, which challenges the terms of the insurer’s $182.3 billion bailout by the federal government in 2008. AIG said Greenberg had forced its hand in even deliberating the prospect, but that ultimately it did not want to sue anyway amid a public backlash. Absent AIG’s participation, Greenberg is pursuing a derivative claim, seeking to sue the U.S. government on AIG’s behalf over the terms of the $182.3 billion rescue. Greenberg and his company Starr International, which owned 12 percent of AIG before the rescue, are also suing the government directly.
Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, the former American International Group chief executive, has more than doubled the size of his class-action lawsuit against the United States over the insurer’s bailout to roughly $55.5 billion from $25 billion. In an amended complaint filed late Monday in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, Greenberg’s Starr International Co said it is now seeking damages over Maiden Lane III LLC, a vehicle designed to rid banks of toxic debt underlying transactions with AIG. The claims are in addition to claims that Starr previously asserted over the government’s taking of a 79.9 percent stake in AIG in September 2008, which was eventually swapped for 562.9 million common shares. In the amended complaint, Starr said it is seeking to recover, on behalf of shareholders and the company, $23 billion over the government’s 79.9 percent stake, plus as much as $32.5 billion of collateral it said was given away through Maiden Lane III. It is also seeking unspecified damages related to AIG’s 1-for-20 reverse stock split in June 2009. [Reuters]
AIG is in the news today for two very small numbers in connection with much larger numbers. First: AIG is no longer bailed out! I know, you thought that happened like six months ago, and then again three months ago, but today AIG got rid of the last little bits of government ownership, really this time:
American International Group, Inc. (NYSE: AIG) announced today that it completed the repurchase of warrants issued to the United States Department of the Treasury (U.S. Treasury) in 2008 and 2009. … AIG and the U.S. Treasury agreed upon a repurchase price of approximately $25 million for the warrants. The U.S. Treasury does not have any residual interest in AIG after AIG’s repurchase of these warrants.
“With AIG repurchasing all outstanding warrants issued to the U.S. Treasury, we are turning the final page on America’s assistance to AIG,” said Robert H. Benmosche, AIG President and Chief Executive Officer. “We appreciate the opportunities this support allowed and are proud to have returned to America every cent plus a profit of $22.7 billion.”
Back in December, I speculated baselessly about why AIG didn’t just buy back these warrants in connection with Treasury’s final sale of stock back in December, since they were just rounding error on the $7.6bn offering. I figured waiting would let the government get a better deal, and it seems to have: I ballparked a value of $18,000,000.393 for those warrants in December, so Treasury made an extra $7mm by waiting three months.1 One possible explanation is that AIG and Treasury enjoyed the dynamic of announcing “AIG HAS PAID OFF ITS BAILOUT” every three months, so they milked it for all it was worth. I’m sure someone from Treasury left a pen or something at AIG’s offices, and its return will be announced with great fanfare in a few months.
The Greenberg of The AIG Story is a cross between Henry Ford, Henry Kissinger and James Bond. When some ski gondolas come loose on a Vermont mountain that he later turns into “one of America’s leading resorts”, he skis down “to warn others and prevent injuries.” When he flies to Vietnam after a hotel fire in Ho Chi Minh City “the victims and their families [are] moved by Greenberg’s presence”. He selects where to put the ashes of Cornelius Vander Starr, the founder of AIG, and builds an 18-hole golf course at his mentor’s country house “in response to requests from guests.” He is barred from AIG’s headquarters, and denied access to personal material including letters from his mother “and medical files for his dog, Snowball”. [FT]
Have you ever wanted to hold a mock trial of Hank Greenberg’s lawsuit over the AIG bailout from the comfort of your own home? If so, you’re in luck, because yesterday AIG filed with a federal court the complete AIG Mock Trial Deluxe Kit. It’s all here:
- A written protocol for conducting the mock trial
- Briefs, reply briefs, and sur-reply briefs from Hank Greenberg’s investment vehicle Starr International, the Treasury, and the New York Fed
- A polite letter from the Department of Justice declining the invitation to attend1
- PowerPoint presentations of both sides2
- A transcript of highly respected lawyers arguing both sides
The mock trial was, of course, conducted by AIG’s board a few weeks ago as part of the board’s consideration of whether to join Greenberg’s lawsuit against the government claiming that AIG’s bailout was an unconstitutional taking of shareholder property. The board, unsurprisingly, went with no, and yesterday it filed the full mock trial kit with the court hearing Greenberg’s claims.
The transcript is a very good read; I will mostly pick out a few amusing points but that shouldn’t detract from the facts that (1) there is a legitimate serious interesting issue here, beyond the “ooh look at the ingrates” surface, and (2) both sides did a good job of arguing it. David Boies, Greenberg’s lawyer, has the harder case – that the government unconstitutionally took 80% of AIG’s equity by entering into a voluntary credit agreement approved by AIG’s board that included a grant of equity – but he does a good job with it, resting his argument largely on Section 13(3) of the Federal Reserve Act (which permits the Fed to lend to non-banks but which does not on its face allow the Fed to, for instance, punitively demand lots of equity in excess of what it needs to compensate it for that lending) and on public statements by government officials to the effect of “AIG’s bailout was harsh because we wanted to make an example of them.” Read more »