U.S. regulators are planning to release American International Group Inc. from the special government oversight ordered for the insurer after its central role in the 2008 financial crisis, according to people familiar with the discussions.
The Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) called an unusual last-minute meeting Friday to re-evaluate “the designation of a nonbank financial company,” it said late Thursday. While AIG isn’t named in the statement, two people familiar with the discussions said the council has been working toward releasing AIG from its label as a systemically important financial institution. One of the people said Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen is expected to tip the balance of votes to allow the company’s exit.
Freeing the insurer from close federal supervision would mark a reversal in the tougher treatment the government gave such firms in the wake of the crisis. The FSOC already held a similar closed-door discussion last week, so the announcement Thursday that it planned to revisit the topic was unusual. More unusual was the one-day notice, because the group usually announces meetings a week in advance.
(Related: The FSOC is Here)
“We don’t know whether the regulators will vote to de-designate AIG, but at the very least it looks like they’ve been making progress,” Ian Katz, an analyst with Capital Alpha Partners, wrote in a Thursday note to clients.
To be sure, meeting participants could still delay making a final decision. A Treasury representative didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. A spokesman for the Fed declined to comment. AIG spokespeople either said they couldn’t comment or didn’t respond to messages.
Yellen recently said she thinks the process for de-designating companies is working well and that she was expecting Treasury to make recommendations she’d be “glad to consider.”
The FSOC is led by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and includes key U.S. financial regulators such as Yellen and Jay Clayton, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. It was set up by the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act to guard the financial system against excessive risk. Part of the group’s mission is to designate nonbank financial firms that its 10 voting members think could threaten the financial system if they fail.
Clayton chose not to participate in the voting because his former law firm works with AIG, meaning six of nine remaining members would need to approve the change to win a required two-thirds majority, the people said. The three expected to oppose the move are the heads of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., Federal Housing Finance Agency and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, one person said.
AIG and Prudential Financial Inc. are currently labeled as SIFIs. MetLife Inc. won a legal case overturning its label as too big to fail. General Electric Corp. was granted an escape from SIFI status by shedding much of its GE Capital business.
An escape for AIG would free the New York-based insurer from the threat of more-stringent capital rules. The firm was at the center of the crisis, when its investing blunders led to a government bailout of $182.3 billion. AIG repaid the rescue, turning away from its infamous derivatives portfolio that contributed to the collapse.
A reprieve for AIG “would be a stunningly bad move,” said Phil Angelides, the former California state treasurer who led the independent government commission that investigated the causes of the financial crisis. “People have very short memories.”
The makeup of the FSOC has shifted as holdovers of the Obama administration are replaced with those appointed by President Donald Trump. His administration has been seeking a rollback of regulations across the government, and its officials have criticized the process FSOC used to designate companies as risky. Trump directed Mnuchin to study the issue and make recommendations in a report that’s expected as soon as next month.
“I’m not sure the facts are going to matter to the Trump boys,” Angelides said. “They probably are going to go ahead and absolve AIG.”
—With assistance from Ben Bain and Sonali Basak.
— Read AIG Announces $62 Billion Loss; Revamps Financing on ThinkAdvisor.