Billionaire Warren Buffett said he gave an appraisal of American International Group Inc. to Timothy Geithner, then the head of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, just before it rescued AIG in 2008.
Geithner asked “was there enough in the way of value there to warrant such an $85 billion loan” to AIG, Buffett said Tuesday at the Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit in Laguna Niguel, California. “I thought that if they had staying power and, if there weren’t things there that I didn’t know about, it could be. Probably the underlying subsidiaries would bring $85 billion in a normalized market. And that was that.”
The bailout grew to $182.3 billion, with the U.S. Treasury Department also providing assistance, and remains a source of debate. Former AIG Chief Executive Officer Maurice “Hank” Greenberg has sued the U.S., claiming the government illegally took equity in the insurer.
The collapse of AIG would’ve caused “mass panic on a global scale,” Geithner testified in that trial. The insurer finished repaying the aid in late 2012, with a profit of more than $20 billion for the U.S.
Buffett said he was contacted by Geithner either on Sept. 16, 2008, when AIG was rescued, or a day before. Earlier, Buffett has said, he was asked by AIG if his Omaha, Nebraska- based Berkshire Hathaway Inc. was interested in a deal to prop up the struggling insurer.
“It wasn’t very tough,” to resist an investment, Buffett said in an interview with Bloomberg Television in 2009. “They needed more than we could supply by far. I didn’t know the extent of it, but I knew that.”
Berkshire competes with AIG in some insurance markets and has also sold reinsurance to the New York-based company.
–With assistance from Noah Buhayar in New York.
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