The Semtex in the AIG Retention Contracts

Here’s how I understand the white paper AIG just used to convince Tim Geithner that, while the US government can force car companies to cut the wages of line workers, the US government cannot force banksters to cut the wages of the thugs who broke the global financial system. There’s a lot of mumbo jumbo about contract law, but that’s not the real reason AIG is arguing Geithner can’t strip the bonuses. It’s the "business reasons" that amount to a deliberate threat:

For example, AIGFP is a party to derivative and structured transactions, guaranteed by AIG, that allow counterparties to terminate in the event of a “cross default” by AIGFP or AIG. A cross default in many of these transactions is defined as a failure by AIGFP to make one or more payments in an amount that exceeds a threshold of $25 million.

In the event a counterparty elects to terminate a transaction early, such transaction will be terminated at its replacement value, less any previously posted collateral. Due to current market conditions, it is not possible to reliably estimate the replacement cost of these transactions. However, the size of the portfolio with these types of provisions is in the several hundreds of billions of dollars and a cross-default in this portfolio could trigger other cross-defaults over the entire portfolio of AIGFP.

Translated, I take that to mean that AIGFP is a party to a bunch of contracts insured by AIG the US government. And if AIGFP somehow does something that equates to a default on those contracts, then AIG the US government is on the hook for hundreds of billions of dollars. 

The white paper goes on to explain just one scenario that might trigger a default in terms of these contracts.

Departures also have regulatory ramifications. As an example, the resignation of the senior managers of AIGFP’s Banque AIG subsidiary would allow the Commission Bancaire, the French banking regulator, to appoint its own designee to step in and manage Banque AIG. Such an appointment would constitute an event of default under Banque AIG’s derivative and structured transactions, including the regulatory capital CDS book ($234 billion notional amount as of December 31, 2008), and potentially cost tens of billions of dollars in unwind costs. Read more

Hysteria over a $15 Billion Loan, But Not $285 Billion in Takeovers?

Man, the NYT’s pathetically bad reporting on the auto bridge loan continues.

David Sanger writes a story purporting to be news that presents a loan to the auto industry–with conditions–as a crisis of capitalism of epic proportions.

But what Mr. Obama went on to describe was a long-term bailout that would be conditioned on federal oversight. It could mean that the government would mandate, or at least heavily influence, what kind of cars companies make, what mileage and environmental standards they must meet and what large investments they are permitted to make — to recreate an industry that Mr. Obama said “actually works, that actually functions.”

It all sounds perilously close to a word that no one in Mr. Obama’s camp wants to be caught uttering: nationalization.

Not since Harry Truman seized America’s steel mills in 1952 rather than allow a strike to imperil the conduct of the Korean War has Washington toyed with nationalization, or its functional equivalent, on this kind of scale. Mr. Obama may be thinking what Mr. Truman told his staff: “The president has the power to keep the country from going to hell.” (The Supreme Court thought differently and forced Mr. Truman to relinquish control.)

The fact that there is so little protest in the air now — certainly less than Mr. Truman heard — reflects the desperation of the moment. But it is a strategy fraught with risks.

The first, of course, is the one the president-elect himself highlighted. Government’s record as a corporate manager is miserable, which is why the world has been on a three-decade-long privatization kick, turning national railroads, national airlines and national defense industries into private companies.

The second risk is that if the effort fails, and the American car companies collapse or are auctioned off in pieces to foreign competitors, taxpayers may lose the billions about to be spent.

And the third risk — one barely discussed so far — is that in trying to save the nation’s carmakers, the United States is violating at least the spirit of what it has preached around the world for two decades. The United States has demanded that nations treat American companies on their soil the same way they treat their home-grown industries, a concept called “national treatment.” [my emphasis]

"Not since Truman," Sanger writes, "has Washington toyed with nationalization."

"Not since Truman," that is, so long as you ignore the very recent nationalizations of AIG, Fannie, and Freddie.

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