Trouble Below the Surface at AIG

Fri, 31 Jul 2009 12:18:10 +0000

If you are going to regulate an industry, by all means, empower the regulators to intervene when sensible policies are violated. Mary Williams Walsh -- in my opinion one of the very best reporters working today -- has the story in yesterday's New York Times (emphasis added):

In the months since A.I.G. received its $182 billion rescue from the Treasury and the Federal Reserve, state insurance regulators have said repeatedly that its core insurance operations were sound — that the financial disaster was caused primarily by a small unit that dealt in exotic derivatives.

But state regulatory filings offer a different picture. They show that A.I.G.’s individual insurance companies have been doing an unusual volume of business with each other for many years — investing in each other’s stocks borrowing from each other’s investment portfolios; and guaranteeing each other’s insurance policies, even when they have lacked the means to make good. Insurance examiners working for the states have occasionally flagged these activities, to little effect.

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More ominously, many of A.I.G.’s insurance companies have reduced their own exposure by sending their risks to other companies, often under the same A.I.G. umbrella.

Echoing state regulators’ statements, the company said the interdependency of its businesses posed no problem and strongly disputed that any units had obligations they could not pay.

A facade of regulation is worse than no regulation at all. How many examples of this will we have to observe before we learn our lesson?