Will AIG use its profits from the Blackstone Group LP IPO to pay the costs of complying with the guidance issued by the Office of Thrift Supervision? In 1998, American International Group (AIG) acquired a 7% interest in the Blackstone Group for $150 million. According to analyst reports, if the Blackstone IPO goes as well as planned, AIG’s stake in the Blackstone Group will add approximately $2.8 billion dollars to the company’s bottom line.
Things were going well for the self-proclaimed world’s largest insurer and one of the largest sub-prime mortgage lenders until US federal regulators started investigating the sub-prime mortgage industry’s aggressive lending practices.
Last March, five US regulators, including the OTS, proposed new guidelines citing concerns that sub-prime borrowers did not understand the risks associated with their mortgage loans. According to a Business Week expose titled, “The Poverty Business:
Inside U.S. companies' audacious drive to extract more profits from the nation's working poor”:
“The recent furor over subprime mortgage loans fits into this broader story about the proliferation of subprime credit. In some instances, marketers essentially use products as the bait to hook less-well-off shoppers on expensive loans.”
According to the Financial Times, AIG is in discussions with the OTS over sub-prime mortgage loans made by AIG Federal Savings Bank, a subsidiary of AIG, over the last three years. The lender expects to pay a $128 million fine in relation to its aggressive sub-prime mortgage lending practices. An undisclosed AIG spokesperson, quoted in the article, said,
“Management expects that the application of underwriting criteria developed in consideration of regulatory guidance issued by the banking agencies will result in significant costs to the domestic consumer finance operations.”
Before we start feeling sorry for AIG, let us consider the following:
AIG’s book value is estimated at $102 billion. Jim Albers, an analyst with Victory Capital Management, is quoted in a recent Reuter’s article as saying about AIG, “It’s so huge that a $2.8 billion gain doesn’t look that big.” In other words, the gain relative to the book value is inconsequential. If $2.8 billion “doesn’t look that big,” then surely, $128 million is no cause for concern. Relatively speaking, would it not be great if we could all mend our more questionable business practices at such a low cost?