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Executive Changes Shake AIG Ratings

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Credit analysts are starting to weigh in on the upheaval at the top at American International Group Inc., New York.[@@]

AIG says Maurice Greenberg, 79, who has been chief executive officer of the company since 1968 and chairman since 1989, will be keeping the title of chairman, but that Martin Sullivan, who has been the company’s co-chief operating officer, is now the CEO.

Meanwhile, Howard Smith, the chief financial officer, is taking a leave. AIG says Howard Bensinger, who has been the company’s treasurer and comptroller, is now the CFO.

A.M. Best Company, Oldwick, N.J., says it has placed its AA plus financial strength ratings for AIG member companies under review with Negative implications.

Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services, New York, says it has placed its AAA long-term counterparty credit rating for AIG on CreditWatch with negative implications.

Moody’s Investors Service, New York, lowered its outlook for AIG’s debt ratings and financial strength ratings on AIG’s property-casualty insurance, life insurance, mortgage insurance and reinsurance operations to Negative, from Stable.

Fitch Ratings, New York, went a step further, downgrading its long-term AIG debt ratings to AA plus. But Fitch gave the AA plus rating a “Stable” outlook.

S&P credit analyst Grace Osborne in a conference call took note of the Greenberg and Smith departures and said regulatory scrutiny from the New York attorney general’s office and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission “has not abated.”

The CreditWatch status will be resolved after AIG files its delayed 2004 annual report, Osborne said.

S&P is not expecting AIG to restate any financial results for earlier years, Osborne said. “Nevertheless,” she said, “we really must allow for the possibility. “

Even if S&P takes further actions, it is unlikely that ratings for the AIG holding company or AIG’s operating insurance companies would fall below the AA range, Osborne said.

Fitch Ratings, New York, the only major firm that has cut its AIG ratings, says AIG has been pressured by recent government probes regarding its business practices.

“Fitch believes uncertainties and disruptions created by these events are inconsistent with the highly conservative and stable profile required of a company assigned an AAA,” Fitch says in a comment on the rating change.

Now that Greenberg is no longer AIG’s CEO, “there will certainly be an adjustment period for AIG,” Fitch Managing Director Julie Burke told National Underwriter. “He’s been the leader for nearly 40 years. But AIG has a deep management team, so while Greenberg’s leaving will have an impact, the company will just adjust for that and move on.”

As for AIG’s new leader, Martin Sullivan, S&P is expressing confidence in his qualifications. “Sullivan has been in the organization,” Osborne said. “He understands the insurance world well, how it works, and the AIG culture. He has the appropriate leadership quality.”


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