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Context of 'August 12, 2009: Obama Administration Executive Compensation Czar Assessing Pay Plans of Seven Bailed Out Companies'

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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

Having received over $170 billion in taxpayer bailout funds in the last five months, troubled insurance giant American International Group (AIG) pays executives nearly $200 million in bonuses. The largest are bonus payouts that cover AIG Financial Products executives who sold risky credit default swap contracts that caused huge losses for the insurer (see September 16, 2008). Despite a request by US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner for the insurance conglomerate to curtail future bonus pay—and AIG’s agreement to do so—the global insurer cuts bonus checks on Sunday, March 15, 2009, in order to meet a bonus payment agreement deadline. The Treasury Department has publicly acknowledged that the government does not have the legal authority to block current bonus payments, although AIG stated in early March that it suffered its largest corporate loss in history, when it reported fourth quarter 2008 losses of $61.7 billion.
Treasury Tried to Prevent Payments - An anonymous Obama administration official says that on March 11 Geithner called AIG Chairman Edward Liddy demanding that the CEO renegotiate the insurer’s present bonus structure. In a letter, Liddy informed Geithner that outside lawyers had advised AIG that the company could face lawsuits, should they not make the contractually obligated payments. “AIG’s hands are tied,” Liddy wrote, although acknowledging that, with the company’s fiduciary situation, he found it “distasteful and difficult” to approve and pay the bonuses. He wrote that the early 2008 bonus payments agreement was entered into prior to the company being forced last fall to obtain the first taxpayer bailout because of the company’s severe financial distress.
Some Monies Already Paid Out - A white paper generated by AIG asserted that the firm had already distributed $55 million in “retention pay” to nearly 400 AIG Financial Products employees. According to the white paper, the global entity “will labor to reduce 2009 bonus payment amounts,” trimming payouts by at least 30 percent this year. [Associated Press, 3/15/2009]

Entity Tags: Edward Liddy, AIG (American International Group, Inc.), Timothy Geithner, US Department of the Treasury

Timeline Tags: Global Economic Crises

Having received what the Obama administration calls “exceptional assistance,” American International Group (AIG), Citigroup, Bank of America, General Motors (GM), GMAC, Chrysler, and Chrysler Financial are now meeting with executive pay czar, Kenneth Feinberg, and must submit 2009 pay plans for their top 25 executives. In turn, Feinberg must perform a 60-day assessment while working with the seven companies on their salary configurations. Plans for the other 75 executives of the seven corporations are due later. Exorbitant executive pay and bonuses has its critics, with many outraged that the companies are collecting taxpayer money only to pay out expensive bonuses during a massive recession. Others fear that the feds have insinuated themselves too deeply into private business affairs. Feinberg himself admits that his job has built-in conflicts. “Historically, the American people frown on the notion of government insinuating itself into the private marketplace,” he says in an interview, one day after his appointment. “My answer to those critics is I understand that concern, I share that concern, and the question is how do you strike a balance between that legitimate concern and the populist outrage at prior industry compensation practices?” The Obama administration has already seen and experienced taxpayers’ fury; Feinberg hopes to avoid such outrage. Corporations must prove to him that they are rewarding good performance and discouraging undue risk-taking. “We are not going to provide a running commentary on that process, but it’s clear that Mr. Feinberg has broad authority to make sure that compensation at those firms strikes an appropriate balance,” say US Treasury Department spokespersons, while noting that Feinberg can’t force companies to renege on contract obligations executed prior to February 12, 2009. However, this hasn’t prevented cries of foul play by critics upset over excessive government interference in private businesses. “No matter which way I turn, you’re facing criticism either from those who are appalled at what these companies did versus those who question the value of the government getting involved,” Feinberg says. The recently appointed executive compensation czar is used to dealing with contentious sides having served as compensation fund chairman for the families of victims of the September 11 attacks. [ABC News, 8/12/2009]

Entity Tags: Chrysler Financial, AIG (American International Group, Inc.), Bank of America, Citigroup, Chrysler, General Motors, GMAC, US Department of the Treasury

Timeline Tags: Global Economic Crises

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