Taxpayers will soon be released from their ownership of American International Group (AIG).
The Treasury Department announced on December 10 that it would sell all remaining 234.2 million shares (15.9% of the company) in a public offering that is expected to raise $7.8 billion.
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The sale will realize a goal few would have thought possible over four years ago when the government rescued AIG from collapse because it had underwritten credit-default swaps that were intertwined with many Wall Street and European banks.
AIG was the largest symbol of risk taking and Wall Street excess among the American public during the crisis.
The government at one point offered $182 billion to the insuror, much of which went to pay claims held on AIG by banks.
Fed chief Ben Bernanke was angered by the necessity of the bailout, saying there had been no choice but to try and stabilize the system since the company could be forced into a fire sale that would severely shortchange investors.
But few expected the government to be able to pull out so soon, or to come away with a profit of $15.1 billion—which may grow slightly larger by the time the sale occurs.
The sale is expected to occur quickly. Part of AIG’s recovery is due to Robert H. Benmosche, a retired insurance executive who agreed to take over AIG and whose strategy of selling assets in a more measured fashion that targeted maximum sale prices has apparently worked
The assets could have been sold earlier for an even greater profit but the rescue achieved its goal and prevented taxpayers from suffering a significant loss.