The K-10 annex of AIG’s last annual report reveals that AIG had written coverage for over US$ 300 billion of credit insurance for European banks. The comment by AIG itself on these positions is: “…. for the purpose of providing them with regulatory capital relief rather than risk mitigation in exchange for a minimum guaranteed fee”. AIG thus helped to organise regulatory arbitrage on a gigantic scale. A formal default of AIG would have had a devastating impact on banks in Europe. This explains why AIG’s problems had sent shock waves through the share prices of European banks. For the time being the US Treasury has saved, inter alia, the European banking system, but given that AIG is to be liquidated European banks now have to scramble to find other ways of obtaining the ‘regulatory capital relief’ they appear to need urgently.
If you remember the interview with Germany’s finance minister that we quoted yesterday, you will remember that he said…
In the case of Lehman, the US government wanted to send a signal to the market that they are not prepared to offer a bailout under any circumstances. In the case of AIG, we had direct talks at the G7 level and implored them to stabilize the situation. An AIG bankruptcy would have triggered shock waves around the world. We were all staring into the abyss at that point.
I think Mr. Kedrosky has helped illuminate what the abyss looked like.