Article Index

Prudential Takes Control of Asian Insurance Market With Purchase of Foreign AIG Unit

London-based Prudential PLC (NYSE ADR: PUK) showed its confidence in Asian market profitability by agreeing to buy American International Group Inc.'s (NYSE: AIG) Asian insurance-unit - AIA Group Ltd.

The news follows AIG'S announcement Friday that it lost $8.9 billion last quarter and would continue to divest assets to repay its billions in debt. AIG was planning on an initial public offering for AIA Group in Hong Kong, but recognized a sale to Prudential as a better deal.

Showcasing its bullish outlook, Prudential will pay $35.5 billion for AIA - $25 billion in cash and $10.5 billion in stock and other securities. The company plans to raise $20 billion in a rights offering and sell $5 billion in bonds to finance the deal's cash portion.

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AIG Could Seek Another Bailout as it Struggles to Return to Profitability

American International Group Inc. (NYSE: AIG), the insurance giant that received billions in federal bailout money, on Friday reported an $8.9 billion fourth-quarter loss. AIG dismissed the loss as part of its rebuilding process, but it also acknowledged that it may require even more government financing.

The loss is not nearly as bad as the previous year's $61.7 billion fourth-quarter stumble - the biggest quarterly loss in corporate history - but at $65.51 a share, it's still much higher than analysts predicted.

Amid scrutiny, AIG in September 2008 received a $182.3 billion bailout, which gave the government an 80% stake in its business. Since then, AIG's debt pay-off funds have generally come from the sale of its non-core assets. AIG recognizes these "fire-sales" as the best way to pay back its debts while also streamlining its business.

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How Banks Are "Crowding Out" the U.S. Rebound

When U.S. President Barack Obama unveiled the $787 billion "stimulus" bill of extra spending and modest tax cuts last year, it became clear that the U.S. budget deficit was going to eclipse the 10% of gross domestic product (GDP) level for at least one year (and, as we now know, probably three years).

On those grounds, I opposed the "stimulus" - a position that was a lot less popular then than it has since become. However, as I'll show you below, it now looks as if I was right - and the implications for the U.S. economy are highly worrisome.

You see, the theory postulated by economist John Maynard Keynes holds that the extra spending stimulates additional output fails to address the question of where the money comes from.

Government cannot create wealth - it has to borrow it. If, before the stimulus, government finances were in good shape, as was the case in China, then stimulus does indeed stimulate: The modest budget deficit that it causes is easily financed, and the extra spending creates some jobs and maybe some useful infrastructure, depending on how well targeted it is.

In the United States, however, government finances were in a mess before the stimulus began.

To find out how banks are blunting the recovery, read on ....

Warning: This is Not Another Wall Street Conspiracy Theory, These are the Facts

Just last week, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a hearing on the U.S. Federal Reserve's decision to directly pay billions of dollars to banks as part of its scheme to bail out insurance giant American International Group Inc. (NYSE: AIG).

According to committee Chairman Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, the testimony that congressmen heard just didn't "pass the smell test."

What really stinks about the whole mess is not only the cover-up of what really happened and why, but the inability of anybody in Congress to actually do their homework and be able to frame pointed questions and get to the truth.

It's not complicated, but it is convoluted. Here are the facts and some questions that Congress needs to ask - and that the American people deserve straight answers to.

For the inside story on AIG's collapse, read on...

MetLife Closing in on AIG's Alico Unit

MetLife is reportedly negotiating to buy the American Life Insurance Co. from its parent American International Group Inc. (NYSE: AIG). The deal would give MetLife more exposure to Japan and assist AIG in paying back the billions of dollars it owes to the government.

Under the terms now being discussed, MetLife would pay $14 billion to $15 billion for American Life, commonly known as Alico, The New York Times reported. At least $9 billion of that sum would immediately go to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to redeem preferred stock now being held in a special-purpose vehicle. Additional proceeds would go toward paying down part of a separate, $35 billion credit facility from the New York Fed.

Acquiring Alico would give MetLife a strong presence in Japan where an aging population offers fresh growth opportunities. Alico had about 200 offices, 4,600 consultants or employees, and 10,000 agencies in Japan as of March of last year, according to The Wall Street Journal. The company generates about 70% of its revenue from the Pacific island.

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Why Fourth Quarter Earnings Season Will Bode Well for Stocks

As earnings season kicks into high gear in the coming weeks, many analysts expect an abundance of good news, mostly because earnings last year were abnormally low. And that bodes well for investors.

For the first time since the second quarter of 2007, earnings of stocks in the Standard & Poor's 500 Index should be higher than they were the year before. That would break the longest losing streak since S&P began keeping track of operating earnings in 1991.

"It's going to be on the plus side again," James Swanson, chief investment strategist at MFS Investment Management told The Wall Street Journal.

Obama Bank Tax No Reason to Flee Financials

U.S. President Barack Obama plans to implement a tax on financial institutions to offset taxpayer losses stemming from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) and help reduce the deficit. But Obama's new bank tax is no reason to turn bearish on financials, which staged an impressive comeback last year.

At a time when many financial companies are gearing up to announce fourth-quarter and full-year earnings, as well as details regarding employee compensation and bonus payments for 2009, the government is considering charging banks fees to recover as much as $120 billion in lost taxpayer money.

While most of the big banks have started paying back their TARP investments, the government has yet to recoup large swathes of money that went to American International Group Inc. (NYSE: AIG), General Motors Corp., and Chrysler LLC. Last month, the Treasury estimated that the net cost of TARP to taxpayers would be $41.4 billion.

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Geithner's Fed Pressured AIG to Keep Quiet on "Back Door Bailouts"

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York, while headed by current Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, pressured American International Group Inc. (NYSE: AIG) to withhold information about payments it made to banks during the peak of the financial crisis, according to a report by Bloomberg News yesterday (Thursday).

A series of emails between the Federal bank and AIG lawyers show that the insurer was told to delete details from public disclosures about payments it made on credit default swaps to such banks as Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (NYSE: GS) and Deutsche Bank AG (NYSE: DB), which were settled for 100 cents on the dollar.

The swap payments, which totaled $62 billion and have been characterized as "back door bailouts" by some lawmakers, are at the center of allegations that Geithner failed to negotiate a better deal for taxpayers.

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Investment News Briefs

With our investment news briefs, Money Morning provides investors with a quick overview of the most important investing news stories from all around the world. Top AIG Lawyer Quits Over Pay Restrictions, Gets Millions in Severance; Biggs & Faber: S&P 500 Has Room to Run, Dollar Will Rebound; Consumer Confidence Rises for Second Month in a Row; U.S. Home Prices Unchanged in October; China Audit Finds $35 Billion in Fraud by Officials; GM Holds Fire Sale on Remaining Pontiacs and Saturns; Oil Moves Closer to $79 Outgoing American International Group Inc. (NYSE: AIG) General Counsel Anastasia Kelly will get "several million dollars" in severance after she quit over federal pay curbs, people familiar with the matter told The Wall Street Journal . Kelly was entitled to the money under AIG's severance plan, which says certain executives can resign and collect severance if their pay is significantly reduced, the people said. Kelly's pay stood to take a large hit after the Obama administration "pay czar" Ken Feinberg capped annual salaries at $500,000 for executives at companies that received billions in bailout money. The exact amount of severance was not specified. Hedge fund manager Barton Biggs and contrarian investor Marc Faber both said in an interview with Bloomberg Television that the dollar and the U.S. equity market may gain up to 10% in the next two years. "History would suggest that after such a severe economic shock like we've just had that the odds are that we're going to have a pretty good burst of growth in 2010, 2011," Biggs said. "I don't see any reason why we can't have a further rally in the dollar and a further rally in stocks. And my guess is that the next move in both could be on the order of 10%." Both Biggs and Faber recommended investors buy U.S. stocks on March 9, 2009 when the Standard & Poor's 500 Index was at its lowest point in 12 years.

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Investment News Briefs

Senate Approves Bernanke Nomination; Commodities, Markets Fall as Dollar Gains; Citi Shares Fall After Lower-Than-Expected Price for Stock Sale; Weekly Jobless Claims Rise; Whitney Reduces EPS Estimates for Goldman, Morgan Stanley; Report: AIG Asian Subsidiary to Have Hong Kong IPO; RIM Beats Estimates on BlackBerry Shipments; Palm Q2 EPS Misses Wall Street Expectations

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France and Britain Take the Lead on Executive Pay Restrictions

Executive pay has been a delicate issue in the United States where the Obama administration's "Pay Czar," Kenneth Feinberg, has been asked to keep bonuses for top financial managers disciplined without driving off top talent.

However, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown have been more blunt about exacting a toll on the financial firms that required taxpayer bailouts.

The United Kingdom on Wednesday announced plans to levy an immediate 50% tax on discretionary bonuses greater than 25,000 pounds, or about $40,000.   The U.K. Treasury estimates the tax will affect 20,000 bankers and bring in about 550 million pounds, or about $894,000,000. However, some bankers have suggested the tax would reap about 4 billion pounds, or $6.5 billion, if firms press ahead with large bonus payouts regardless of the tax, the Financial Times reported.

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Investment News Briefs

More AIG Execs Threaten to Quit Over Pay; Bernanke Not Raising Rates Anytime Soon; Gold, Oil Fall After Fed Comments; October Consumer Credit Falls Less Than Expected; SEC Charges Former New Century Execs with Fraud; Cadbury to Respond to Kraft Bid Next Week; BlackRock Plans First Debt Offering in Two Years; Commercial Loan Delinquencies at Record High; RIM's BlackBerry to Get Wider Reach in China

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