- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Bailed-out insurance conglomerate American International Group Inc. is taking a key step toward paying off a bailout that was at one point worth $182 billion — the largest of the financial crisis.

The company says in a public filing Wednesday that it will repay a loan from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. AIG says that will clear the way for the Treasury to sell off the government’s stake. Treasury’s stake in AIG will temporarily rise from roughly 80 percent to 92 percent, as part of the deal.

During the height of the crisis, the New York Fed provided as much as $91 billion in credit to AIG. As of early December, AIG owed about $21 billion.

Treasury officials would not comment on the government’s planned sales of AIG shares. They said the shares will be sold to maximize taxpayer profits and minimize the risk of loss.

“Today’s announcement is a milestone in the government’s long-stated efforts to exit our investments in private companies as soon as practical while protecting taxpayers,” Tim Massad, Treasury’s acting assistant secretary for financial stability, said in a statement. “When all is said and done, we believe taxpayers will recover every dollar invested in AIG and stand a good chance of making a profit.”

AIG became a symbol for excess risk on Wall Street during the crisis that peaked in late 2008. The company sold insurancelike protection against losses on mortgage bonds and other risky investments. When the value of those investments dropped, AIG could not afford to cover the losses.

For months, the government expected to take massive losses on its investments in AIG. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said last month that the rescue will cost taxpayers $14 billion.

Wednesday’s filing moves the government closer to what Treasury officials expect will be a multibillion-dollar profit.

AIG and Treasury first described the plan in September. Wednesday’s filing marks the official signing of the deal by AIG, the New York Fed and Treasury.

The filing “marks an important step forward in our progress toward completely repaying taxpayers. We remain committed to executing the steps and meeting all conditions in the agreement as soon as possible,” AIG said in a statement.

Treasury will convert its stake into about 1.66 billion shares, worth $70.09 billion, based on Wednesday’s closing price. When the shares are sold, the proceeds will pay off Treasury’s current $47.5 billion investment in AIG, plus another $22 billion that AIG will borrow to settle its obligations to the New York Fed.

The deal can’t be completed until AIG proves its strength by raising money from private investors and regaining a top rating from credit agencies.

“We hope to be able to go to the market with a public offering of AIG this spring, but we have work to do to make that happen,” AIG said in a statement. “We are working as diligently as we can to achieve this as quickly as possible, subject to market conditions.”