There's Just One Little Problem About That $725 Million AIG Securities Suit Settlement

When Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray announced this past Friday that he had entered a massive $725 million settlement on behalf of three Ohio pension funds in the long standing securities class action lawsuit against AIG, he definitely accomplished his objective -his announcement made the front pages of all the newspapers in Ohio (it was the lead story in Saturday's Cleveland Plain Dealer).

There is only one problem. AIG doesn't have the money to pay for the settlement. The plan, such as it is, is that AIG is going to fund the first $175 million following the settlement's preliminary approval. Then, AIG is going to try to conduct a stock offering to raise the remaining $550 million.

As Susan Beck put it on the Am Law Litigation Daily, there have been lots of settlement over the years, but "we've never seen one quite like this."

As reflected in greater detail here, the plaintiffs first sued AIG, certain of its directors and officers, its auditor and certain third parties in October 2004, shortly after then-New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer first announced his investigation of a "scheme" in connection with commercial insurance transactions involving bid-rigging and the payment of contingent commissions. Further allegations made their way into the complaint following additional revelations.

The plaintiffs' 497-page consolidated third amended complaint filed in March 2006 included  the bid-rigging and contingent commission allegations, as well as allegations that AIG falsified its financial statements, among other things, by entry into a finite reinsurance transaction with General Reinsurance Corporation, as well as of reinsurance transactions with other offshore entities. In May 2005 AIG restated five years of earnings, reducing shareholders' equity by more than $2.7 billion.

Even before the $725 million AIG settlement announced Friday, the Ohio AG's office had already entered settlements totaling $284.5 million in the case. First, on October 3, 2008, the Ohio AG entered a $97.5 million settlement with PricewaterhouseCoopers, as reflected here.

Second, on February 2, 2009, the Ohio AG announced that Gen Re had agreed to a $72 million settlement.

Third, on August 13, 2009, the Ohio AG announced that he had entered a $115 million settlement with former AIG CEO Maurice Greenberg, and several other former AIG executives, as well as certain corporate entities affiliated with Greenberg. (Several of these same individuals and entities also separately settled a related derivative lawsuit for $115 million, largely funded by insurance, as discussed here.)

The sum of these settlements in the securities class action case, including the recently announced settlement with AIG, is $1.0095 billion, which, according to data from Risk Metrics (here), would rank as the tenth largest securities class action settlement amount. Indeed, the AIG settlement by itself would rank twelfth on the list.

There is the small problem of how AIG's is going to pay for the $725 million settlement. The company, you will recall, has received over $130 billion in U.S government bailout support and is now 80 percent owned by the U.S. taxpayers. The company is struggling to sell assets to repay the bailout money.

According to AIG's July 16, 2010 filing on Form 8-K, the settlement is "conditioned on its having consummated one or more common stock offerings raising net proceeds of at least $550 million prior to final court approval." The decision whether "market conditions or pending or contemplated corporate transactions make it commercially reasonable to proceed with such an offering will be within AIG's unilateral discretion."

The intent is for AIG to register a secondary offering of common stock on behalf of the U.S. Treasury. AIG also has the option to fund the $550 million from other sources. If AIG fails to fund the $550 million, the plaintiffs have several options. They can terminate the agreement; they can "elect to acquire freely transferable shares of AIG common stock with a market value of $550 million provided AIG is able to obtain the necessary approvals"; or they can  extend the period for AIG to complete the offering.

A securities offering conducted for the sole purpose of funding past litigation is not exactly the most attractive investment opportunity, even under the best of circumstances. But these are not the best of circumstances for AIG. Indeed, the settlement's announcement comes at a time when the company's leadership seems in disarray, after the company's board chair resigned following a "board battle" with the current CEO. The company faces a daunting array of challenges as it seeks to repay the bailout money, as reflected in a July 17, 2010 Wall Street Journal article here unrelated to the settlement and the projected stock offering,

A July 16, 2010 New York Times article about the settlement quotes one commentator as saying, "There's still a lot of question marks hanging over AIG. How would you write the prospectus for it? The document would be quite appalling when it described the risks."

The offering would, according to the article, be "rife with uncertainties" given the fact that the offering would be dilutive of the government's ownership interest. On the other hand, as the article also points out, "taxpayers and legislators would cry foul" if the lawsuit were funded out of the $22 billion that remains available to the company.

Along with the questions of how the company will fund the $550 million settlement chunk is the question of how the company is paying for the first $175 million. Given the U.S. taxpayers' interest in the company, it seems like there should be some explanation somewhere about the source of that money, but none of the publicly available information provides any explanation. It is possible that insurance will fund that portion, although none of the disclosure documents make any suggestion of that possibility, and in addition, significant insurance funds were previously paid to fund the derivative lawsuit settlement identified above. The settlement agreement itself might answer the question, but it is not yet available on PACER.

The lawsuit itself is a vestige of a different time and place. Though the events involved are only a half dozen years in the past, the complaint reflects a lengthy roster of individuals whose roles have long-since changed in ways that no one could possibly have imagined at the time. The alleged wrongdoing , while involving some fairly egregious circumstances, pales by comparison with the cataclysmic events that followed. Given this antediluvian aspect of this case, it does seem high time that it settled. However, only time will tell if the parties have in fact succeeded in driving a stake into the heart of this beast.

Somehow it seems fitting that just this past week there were news reports that during a recent lunch at the Four Seasons Hotel in New York, where Greenberg was having lunch with former Citigroup CEO Sandy Weill, Spitzer approached Greenberg, stuck his hand out, and asked Greenberg if he would appear on Spitzer's CNN show. Unsurprisingly, Greenberg declined. Can you imagine the look on Greenberg's face? The world is a very strange place sometimes. Or, at least there are some strange inhabitants.

It is also entirely fitting that Cordray's and Spitzer's names should be linked in connection with this story. Cordray has definitely borrowed several key pages out of Spitzer's political play book. Playing the role of Wall Street Scourge definitely worked for Spitzer, at least until his extracurricular activities earned him some extended gardening leave followed by his current rehabilitation assignment on CNN. It also seemed like it was working for Connecticut AG Richard Blumenthal until it turned out he had oversold his credentials as a veteran.

Cordray is playing the angle for all it is worth. His website has a separate page devoted to securities class action litigation activities, including a June 1, 2010 summary of the current cases. (The document is headed "Holding Wall Street Accountable.") However, it is probably worth noting that many of the cases on Cordray's list were actually launched by his predecessors, although Cordray did demonstrate his own initiative with the action he recently filed against the rating agencies, about which refer here.

Read the There's Just One Little Problem About That $725 Million AIG Securities Suit Settlement in its entirety at the D&O Diary, a blog by Kevin LaCroix.