American International Group CEO Peter Hancock’s far-reaching strategic plan to divest assets and return $25 billion to shareholders over the next two years generated the equivalent of a shrug during late afternoon trading on Jan. 26.
The stock price barely nudged higher in late afternoon trading. Analysts and observers offered stronger opinions, however, with some reacting positively to the changes and others cautioning that the global insurance giant may not have gone far enough.
“I suspect that those who are calling, particularly, for the breakup of the company will not be placated by this,” Paul Newsome, managing director, equity research, at Sandler O’Neill and Partners, told Carrier Management.
Activist investor Carl Icahn is among those clamoring for AIG to split itself up in order to maximize shareholder value. Hancock, in a prepared, video interview released by the company earlier in the day, stressed “AIG’s management and board are fully aligned along this strategy to become more focused, leaner and more profitable, and deliver $25 billion to our shareholders over the next two years.. and to do so in a sustainable way.”
AIG and Hancock’s proposals include plans for a 19.9 percent IPO of its mortgage unit, sale of AIG Advisory Group, a reduction of $1.6 billion of costs, and the creation of a “legacy” portfolio of assets that will be sold off or winded down. AIG also pledged to improve its loss ratio 6 points by 2017 and hit a 9 percent return on investment within two years.
“I am impressed by the plan,” Newsome said. “It’s pretty ambitious, a notable effort here to appeal to shareholder interests. They overall did a pretty good job of presenting it. But it’s not perfect, and there will most definitely be some folks among the investment community that won’t be happy, because it does not directly address the desire by some to get rid of the [systemically important financial institution] designation, or split the company into pieces.”
Nomura research analysts Clifford Gallant and Jay Schulte said in a Jan. 26 research note that they view AIG’s actions “as aggressive but reasonable, as they move the company towards improved [returns on equity].”
The pair added that they see the task ahead as “challenging” because of an increasingly difficult underwriting climate, and a likely struggle to reduce expenses. They added that selling off noncore businesses “should improve focus, but the financial impact remains to be seen.”
Peter Hancock Photo: IIS 2015 Global Insurance Forum photo provided by the International Insurance Society)
The pair said they applaud AIG’s proposals including the mortgage unit IPO, the sale of other business units and a $1.6 billion reduction in operating expenses, but emphasized that they “see the company as having missed a more major opportunity.”
AIG’s “underperforming P/C business faces major challenges, and the company needs bold thinking if it is to finally tame its underwriting and expense problems,” Stirling and Davis wrote.
They also argued that AIG must make it a priority to break itself up so it is no longer a designated systemically important financial institution because of the extra direct costs the added regulatory requirements place on the company.
Fitch Ratings, meanwhile, affirmed AIG’s insurer financial strength ratings at ‘A’ and its U.S. life insurance subsidiaries at ‘A+’. At the same time, it revised AIG’s outlook to stable from positive.
Fitch basically took issue with AIG’s announcement of a $3.6 billion pre-tax charge for adverse development of P/C operations loss reserves in the 2015 fourth quarter, plus its plan to return $25 billion to shareholders over two years “at levels that far exceed rating expectations.”
“Previous upgrade rating triggers disclosed by Fitch relating to profitability and interest coverage will not be met following the reserve charge, and financial leverage will also deteriorate to levels above previous upgrade ratings triggers,” Fitch wrote.
By late in the day, American International Group’s stock was at $55.91 on the NYSE, barely 1 percent higher than the initial day’s close.