MTM December 19, 2008 at 1:31 pm

MTM means for course `mark to me’. It appears that AIG has determined the most reliable source of fair values for some transactions is — itself. Think of a number. Wow, the number I just thought of was … the number I was thinking of. I must be right.

I exaggerate of course. Let Bloomberg take up the story:

AIG swaps not covered by the government program include guarantees on $249.9 billion of corporate loans and residential mortgages, most of them made by banks in Europe…
[These swaps] are different because they didn’t insure against losses… they were bought to take advantage of European accounting rules that allow the banks to use the swaps to reduce the capital they’re required to set aside as loss reserves.

The swaps are kept in place only until new accounting rules, known as Basel II, are phased in. Those rules eliminate the ability of financial institutions to reduce the capital they need to set aside by buying swaps.

[AIG has] unwound $95 billion of these regulatory-capital swaps without any losses as of the end of the third quarter. And Gerry Pasciucco, hired from Morgan Stanley on Nov. 12 as interim chief operating officer of AIG’s financial-products subsidiary, said the company continues to “experience early terminations according to our schedule at par.”

As a result, Lewis [AIG risk officer] said, even if the assets underlying the remaining swaps fall in value, AIG isn’t required to mark them to lower market levels.

That’s because, as the insurer said in its third-quarter filing, it “estimates the fair value of these derivatives by considering observable market transactions.” And the only relevant transactions are the swaps AIG has successfully unwound with the European banks, according to the filing.

There is more to trouble an AIG investor, European bank regulators, the SEC, the FED, and AIG’s auditors in this, if it’s true, than you can shake a stick. Here are a few of the issues.

Firstly you would have thought that the Gen Re case had taught AIG that doing transaction purely for regulatory manipulation without risk transfer is a bad idea.

Secondly, what do European bank regulators think of this? (I’ll leave Basel 2 being described as an accounting standard as a signal that this new item may not be entirely reliable. And while we are asking questions, where exactly in Europe hasn’t Basel 2 been implemented yet? And what is a default swap that does not transfer losses, and how exactly does it qualify for capital relief?)

Thirdly, if both the transaction and AIG’s accounting for it are correctly described, why on earth do their auditors, PWC I think, let them get away with this? Hasn’t AIG had enough auditing issues at AIG FP already?

Fourthly does the FED really want an almost 80% state owned company doing this kind of transaction? And accounting for it this way?

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