AIG restructures, aims to earn money

American International Group (AIG) offices in New York City

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Kai Ryssdal: You know, it's been a good long while since AIG has generated as many headlines as it has the past couple of weeks. In the year-plus since its $180-billion government bailout, AIG has brought us a bonus scandal or two. And we are all more familiar than we'd care to be with all of AIG's credit default swaps. But we haven't heard much about how the company is going to pay back what it owes until right now. In the second big deal in less than a week, AIG said yesterday it's going to sell one of its biggest divisions -- American Life Insurance Company -- to MetLife for about $15 billion.

From New York, Marketplace's Jeremy Hobson explores what's left of the insurance company that everybody loves to hate.


JEREMY HOBSON: Add the $15 billion AIG will get from yesterday's sale to another $35 billion for selling American International Assurance to the British company Prudential, and you get an AIG that is still large and complicated.

But, as Morningstar analyst Bill Bergman says, just not as large and complicated as it was two weeks ago.

BILL BERGMAN: You know the cash proceeds from these transactions are going to be significant, and they're going to pay back about half the debt that they owe to the government and that's a huge amount of money.

But Bergman says AIG will still have a tab of at least $40 billion.

Ron Shelp was a senior officer at AIG for many years, and he's written a book on the company called "Fallen Giant." He says AIG has some other big components to sell off, including the largest aircraft leasing business in the world.

RON SHELP: But the real name of the game is they have to earn money from running their insurance business over the next few years.

Meaning Chartis -- their newly renamed property and casualty insurance business.

Shelp says with a focus on that...

SHELP: They'll be sort of like they were when they started back in 1919 in Shanghai. Basically a company that represents American companies and then sells insurance for them in China, only still operating all over the world.

Analysts say with that business model and more restructuring, AIG may eventually be in a position to pay back taxpayers in full. That's a prospect that seemed almost impossible on that September morning in 2008 when AIG was saved by you and me.

In New York, I'm Jeremy Hobson for Marketplace.

About the author

Jeremy Hobson is host of Marketplace Morning Report, where he looks at business news from a global perspective to prepare listeners for the day ahead.

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