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AIG: Now that you own it, learn about it!

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First of all—what is AIG?

AIG is American International Group, the largest insurance company in the world. It's not just an insurance company, however; its business is divided into four divisions: general insurance, life insurance and retirement services, financial services, and asset management. It was started in 1919 in Shanghai.

How did it (almost) collapse?

Like many other banks, AIG lost a lot on its mortgages, including $18.5 billion in the past three quarters—all part of the subprime collapse. Its share price has dropped 79% this year. But bad became worse this Monday when AIG received a downgrading of its credit rating. What's a credit rating? All securities are given a rating that tells you how much risk is associated with your investment into that security. Depending on the rating, the company must have a certain percentage of money on hand. The ratings, given by agencies like S&P and Moody's, are a lot like school grades "“ A's are good (need less money on hand), B's are okay/bad (need more money on hand), and C's are junk (need even more money on hand). So S&P & Moody's downgraded AIG, which meant it needed to post $14.5 billion in collateral to support its trading contracts. AIG couldn't sell its assets off quickly enough to get that money. Seeing its impending doom, AIG tried to rally the rest of the banks (JPMorgan & Goldman) to lend them the money.

That didn't work, so the Fed had to step in order to keep it from total collapse. The Fed has promised to lend up to $85 billion to AIG.

But I thought the Fed wasn't going to bail anyone out anymore.

Well, yes, that's what they said. And they definitely stuck to their word when they let Lehman slide to its demise this weekend. However, AIG is more than just an investment firm. It's such a huge insurer (the largest in the world in terms of assets), and was such a huge player in the Credit Default Swaps (CDS) market, selling off risk to other financial players around the globe. If it collapsed, it would have shaken the global financial world.

What are Credit Default Swaps?

Okay, say I invest $10M into a bond for General Motors, but I'm now afraid that GM may see financial trouble. Instead of just selling my bond off, I can enter into a sort of insurance policy with a big bank, say AIG. I pay AIG a small premium every quarter. If GM remains fine, then AIG does nothing. If GM does see financial trouble and I lose money on my bond, AIG will pay me what I lost on my bond. Likely, this will be a lot of money, relative to the small premiums I pay. Once this happens, the contract of the "swap" terminates. This is all fine and great, except for the fact that the CDS market isn't regulated—thus I could enter into a contract with a bank that doesn't have the resources to cover the loss of my GM bond. The CDS market totals $62 trillion, in which AIG plays a central role. Since just about every bank, insurer, and institutional money manager has some sort of exposure to CDS, they all have some sort of exposure to AIG. Hence, the necessary bailout.

How does the bailout work?

Well the Fed doesn't just hand over the money when they do these bailouts. It has promised a two-year loan for up to $85B. In return, it gets a 79.9% equity stake in the company in the form of warrants (a warrant is basically a call option issued by the corporation—allowing the Fed the option of buying common stock in AIG at a specific price) called equity participant notes. Interest on their loan is at Libor (the London Interbank Offered Rate—it's basically the London equivalent of the US Federal funds interest rate, and is often used as a benchmark for short-term lending) + 8.5 percentage points. That's about 12% (now), which is very high interest.

So AIG has to make good on the loan in the two-years either through general operations (not likely) or through sale of its various assets or branches of business. AIG has about $1.1 trillion worth of assets, and the Fed plans to sell them off in an orderly manner.

Why so much money?

Though AIG only needed $14.5 billion after the credit downgrade this week, the $85B loan was designed so AIG would be left with little debt and it could take on whatever the next few quarters has in store.

Does this matter to me?

Yes—now you own part of AIG! Well, kind of. That $85 billion is comprised of your tax dollars. Yep, your tax money is now going to protect bad investments. Investments that packaged up your debt into various securities, and sold it off to another party, who sold it off to another party, who sold it off all over the world.

However, since the Fed is LENDING the $85B to the corporation (unlike the Fannie & Freddie deal) the government could make some serious money off the high interest rate. That is if, by some sort of divine intervention, the market, and thus AIG, rebounds. The Fed is making it clear that the taxpayer will only see positive effects of the bailout.

But will the taxpayer be affected?

Who knows. It may be true "“ the Fed and the Treasury may make some money off AIG due to the high interest rate, but will I ever see that money? . It's certainly a good way to assuage the public's fears.

Will the bailout work?

It should. See, certain branches of AIG are doing just fine. Its aircraft leasing business, for example, is the second largest in the world and is estimated to bring in between $7 and $10 billion.

And who's to blame?

That's for next time.

Be sure to read more of what Diana learned today here.

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Food
Let Alexa Help You Brine a Turkey This Thanksgiving
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iStock

There’s a reason most of us only cook turkey once a year: The bird is notoriously easy to overcook. You could rely on gravy and cranberry sauce to salvage your dried-out turkey this Thanksgiving, or you could follow cooking advice from the experts.

Brining a turkey is the best way to guarantee it retains its moisture after hours in the oven. The process is also time-consuming, so do yourself a favor this year and let Alexa be your sous chef.

“Morton Brine Time” is a new skill from the cloud-based home assistant. If you own an Amazon Echo you can download it for free by going online or by asking Alexa to enable it. Once it’s set up, start asking Alexa for brining tips and step-by-step recipes customized to the size of your turkey. Two recipes were developed by Richard Blais, the celebrity chef and restaurateur best known for his Top Chef win and Food Network appearances.

Whether you go for a wet brine (soaking your turkey in water, salt, sugar, and spices) or a dry one (just salt and spices), the process isn’t as intimidating as it sounds. And the knowledge that your bird will come out succulent and juicy will definitely take some stress out of the holiday.

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Big Questions
Why Do the Lions and Cowboys Always Play on Thanksgiving?
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Because it's tradition! But how did this tradition begin?

Every year since 1934, the Detroit Lions have taken the field for a Thanksgiving game, no matter how bad their record has been. It all goes back to when the Lions were still a fairly young franchise. The team started in 1929 in Portsmouth, Ohio, as the Spartans. Portsmouth, while surely a lovely town, wasn't quite big enough to support a pro team in the young NFL. Detroit radio station owner George A. Richards bought the Spartans and moved the team to Detroit in 1934.

Although Richards's new squad was a solid team, they were playing second fiddle in Detroit to the Hank Greenberg-led Tigers, who had gone 101-53 to win the 1934 American League Pennant. In the early weeks of the 1934 season, the biggest crowd the Lions could draw for a game was a relatively paltry 15,000. Desperate for a marketing trick to get Detroit excited about its fledgling football franchise, Richards hit on the idea of playing a game on Thanksgiving. Since Richards's WJR was one of the bigger radio stations in the country, he had considerable clout with his network and convinced NBC to broadcast a Thanksgiving game on 94 stations nationwide.

The move worked brilliantly. The undefeated Chicago Bears rolled into town as defending NFL champions, and since the Lions had only one loss, the winner of the first Thanksgiving game would take the NFL's Western Division. The Lions not only sold out their 26,000-seat stadium, they also had to turn fans away at the gate. Even though the juggernaut Bears won that game, the tradition took hold, and the Lions have been playing on Thanksgiving ever since.

This year, the Lions host the Minnesota Vikings.

HOW 'BOUT THEM COWBOYS?


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The Cowboys, too, jumped on the opportunity to play on Thanksgiving as an extra little bump for their popularity. When the chance to take the field on Thanksgiving arose in 1966, it might not have been a huge benefit for the Cowboys. Sure, the Lions had filled their stadium for their Thanksgiving games, but that was no assurance that Texans would warm to holiday football so quickly.

Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm, though, was something of a marketing genius; among his other achievements was the creation of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

Schramm saw the Thanksgiving Day game as a great way to get the team some national publicity even as it struggled under young head coach Tom Landry. Schramm signed the Cowboys up for the game even though the NFL was worried that the fans might just not show up—the league guaranteed the team a certain gate revenue in case nobody bought tickets. But the fans showed up in droves, and the team broke its attendance record as 80,259 crammed into the Cotton Bowl. The Cowboys beat the Cleveland Browns 26-14 that day, and a second Thanksgiving pigskin tradition caught hold. Since 1966, the Cowboys have missed having Thanksgiving games only twice.

Dallas will take on the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday.

WHAT'S WITH THE NIGHT GAME?


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In 2006, because 6-plus hours of holiday football was not sufficient, the NFL added a third game to the Thanksgiving lineup. This game is not assigned to a specific franchise—this year, the Washington Redskins will welcome the New York Giants.

Re-running this 2008 article a few days before the games is our Thanksgiving tradition.

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