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Context of 'March 3, 2009: Fed Chairman Tells Senate Committee of Anger at AIG Bailout'

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AIG logo.AIG logo. [Source: American International Group (AIG)]In an historic move, the federal government bails out insurance corporation AIG with an $85 billion loan, giving control of the firm to the US government. After resisting AIG’s overtures for an emergency loan or other intervention to prevent the insurer from falling into bankruptcy, the government decided AIG, like the now-defunct investment bank, Bear Stearns, was “too big to fail” (see March 15, 2008). The US government will lend up to $85 billion to AIG. In return, the government gets a 79.9 percent equity stake in warrants, called equity participation notes. The two-year loan will carry a LIBOR interest rate plus 8.5 percentage points. LIBOR, the London InterBank Offered Rate, is a common short-term lending benchmark. The bailout comes less than a week after the government allowed a large investment bank, Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., to fold (see September 14, 2008). As part of the loan agreement, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson insists that AIG’s chief executive, Robert Willumstad, steps aside. Willumstad will be succeeded by Edward Liddy, the former head of insurer Allstate Corp (see September 18, 2008). [Wall Street Journal, 9/16/2008] Shares in AIG drop to $3.75 on the news. [Bloomberg, 3/5/2009]

Entity Tags: Henry Paulson, AIG (American International Group, Inc.), Edward Liddy, Robert Willumstad, US Federal Reserve

Timeline Tags: Global Economic Crises

US Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke tells a Senate committee that having to rescue the insurer AIG made him “more angry” than any other episode during the financial crisis. “AIG exploited a huge gap in the regulatory system, there was no oversight of the financial products division,” Bernanke says. “This was a hedge fund basically that was attached to a large and stable insurance company.” In addition, on this day stock in AIG closes at 43 cents. [Bloomberg, 3/5/2009]

Entity Tags: US Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, AIG (American International Group, Inc.)

Timeline Tags: Global Economic Crises

In a speech to the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City President Thomas Hoenig declares that US banks’ ability to remain viable during a deeper recession—while undergoing federal government stress tests—demonstrates that most don’t need more taxpayer money. “Although the United States has several thousand banks, only 19 have more than $100 billion of assets,” Hoenig says. “After supervising authorities evaluate their condition, it is likely that few would require further government intervention.” Designed to demonstrate how much extra capital banks may need to survive a deeper economic downturn, the stress tests are to conclude by April 30, 2009, with the 19 biggest banks’ test results to be disseminated to President Barack Obama in meetings with his economic team. Hoenig reiterates his view that the government shouldn’t prop up failing financial institutions but take them over temporarily and wind them down, as with the 1984 takeover of Continental Illinois National Bank & Trust Co. “I encourage Congress to enact a new resolution process for systematically important firms,” he says. “There has been much talk lately about a new resolution process for systemically important firms that Congress could enact, and implement it as quickly as possible, but we do not have to wait for new authority. We can act immediately, using essentially the same steps we used for Continental. An extremely large firm that has failed would have to be temporarily operated as a conservatorship or a bridge organization and then reprivatized as quickly as is economically feasible. We cannot simply add more capital without a change in the firm’s ownership and management and expect different outcomes.” Hoenig declares that calling a firm “too big to fail” is a “misstatement” because a bank deemed insolvent “has failed.” “I believe that failure is an option,” he says. After the government’s fourth rescue of American International Group Inc. (AIG), Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke called for new powers to take over and sell off failing financial companies, and also called for stronger regulation to constrict risks that might endanger the financial system. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation has the authority to take over failing firms, and dispose of their assets, but no such authority exists for non-banking financial firms such as a hedge fund or AIG, which have extensive links throughout the banking system. During a Q&A after his speech, Hoenig tells the audience that the Fed must be prepared to make a timely removal of its stimulus to deter a period of high inflation that could be likened to that of the early 1980s. “You cannot wait until you know for sure the economy is recovering,” Hoenig says, adding that “employment growth tends to lag” and may not be the best indicator of recovery. “We will watch every indicator of data that suggests we have a recovery under way.” He also says that if the US manages its economy well, the US dollar should remain the world’s reserve currency. “It is a matter of running your economy properly,” he says. “When the US does that, and I think we will, I think we will remain the largest, most successful reserve currency on the face of the earth.” [Bloomberg, 4/9/2009]

Entity Tags: Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, AIG (American International Group, Inc.), Ben Bernanke, US Federal Reserve, Thomas Hoenig, Timothy Geithner, US Department of the Treasury

Timeline Tags: Global Economic Crises

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