Billionaire Investor John Paulson Planning AIG Board Exit

By | April 17, 2017

Billionaire John Paulson is planning to step down from American International Group Inc.’s board after his hedge fund sold shares in the insurer, according to a person familiar with the plan.

The move is expected to be announced in the insurer’s proxy filing within days, said the person, who asked not to be identified discussing disclosures that haven’t been made public.

[Editor’s note: AIG’s board later disclosed that John Paulson is leaving the board because of “other time commitments.”]

Paulson’s planned exit will remove one of the board’s more prominent advocates for shrinking the company. Directors are seeking a replacement for Chief Executive Officer Peter Hancock, and potential successors will want to know whether the job will involve breaking up the insurer, a more limited plan for asset sales or even a focus on growth. Paulson had proposed splitting AIG into three separate companies, a plan that won support from billionaire Carl Icahn. AIG Chairman Doug Steenland wrote in a letter to shareholders last week that it would be a mistake to divide the insurer into separate companies.

It appears that “the full-bore breakup scenario is that much further on the back burner,” David Havens, an analyst at Imperial Capital, said in a note Wednesday [April 12]. “But, AIG remains a company in need of a major overhaul.”

AIG’s board intends to keep a director representing Icahn, said the person familiar with the situation. Icahn didn’t immediately return a call. Spokespeople for AIG and Paulson declined to comment. The hedge fund manager’s planned exit was previously reported by the Financial Times.

Lacking Support

Paulson was elected to the board on May 11, 2016, along with a representative of Icahn’s firm amid optimism that the activists’ vision for reshaping the New York-based company would improve financial results and benefit shareholders. Since then, AIG posted a $3.04 billion fourth-quarter loss and Hancock said he’s leaving because he lacks “wholehearted shareholder support.”

It has also been a tumultuous stretch for Paulson & Co., which has been pressured by client redemptions after being unable to duplicate its successes of the mortgage-crisis era. AIG failed to keep pace with the stock-market gains of rivals including Prudential Financial Inc. and CNA Financial Corp. in the past year, and Paulson’s fund firm cut its stake by more than half in 2016. Charles Murphy, who helped lead the firm’s strategy on AIG, died in late March in an apparent suicide.

AIG slipped 47 cents to $60.32 at 9:44 a.m. [on March 12], extending its decline this year to about 7.6 percent. Paulson & Co. bought the stock for less than the current share price, according to a person familiar with the investment.

The insurer has sold more than $90 billion of assets since the financial crisis. Hancock reshaped the company’s investment portfolio and divested units including a Lloyd’s of London insurer and a mortgage guarantor to free up capital as part of a two-year plan to return $25 billion to shareholders. The company got more than halfway to the target in the first year, but said reaching the full goal in 2017 is subject to input from regulators and ratings firms.

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