Fed Nears Deal to Take Over Ailing AIG

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NEW YORK - The Federal Reserve is close to a deal to take an 80 percent stake in American International Group in exchange for an $85 billion loan, according to sources familiar with the negotiations.

AIG’s failure could open the ugliest chapter yet of the financial meltdown.

“The glimmer of hope has turned into a ray of hope,” said the person, who asked not to be named because of the sensitive nature of the talks to help AIG.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke met with members of Congress to brief them on options the government is considering. The meeting ended without Bernanke and Paulson commenting.

Hoping to stave off what would be the ugliest chapter of the financial meltdown, AIG executives huddled with Fed officials and representatives from top banks at the New York Fed in downtown Manhattan to find the cash the huge insurer needs to stay in business.

One solution: A plan to have the government provide financial backing to ensure that AIG could secure a short-term loan from banks worth up to $100 billion to stay out of bankruptcy court, the person, who had direct knowledge of the talks, said.

He said the discussions had stalled because AIG did not have enough collateral to obtain a loan of that size. Both sides were trying to figure out how to close the gap between the amount AIG needs and the amount of collateral it has.

The person said it was increasingly likely the Fed would step in with taxpayer money. Shareholders would be severely diluted by the bailout, which involves a bridge loan, according to sources. The government would receive warrants for most of AIG's equity in the bailout being negotiated. CNBC said the deal would give AIG incentive to sell its assets quickly to help pay off the bridge loan.

“This would mean another shareholder wipeout,” said David Ader, head of government bond strategy at RBS Greenwich Capital in Greenwich, Conn.

Just days ago, Paulson said the government would not help Lehman Bros. with the kind of taxpayer-backed funding that JPMorgan Chase & Co. received six months ago to buy ailing Bear Stearns.

Lehman, the nation’s fourth-largest investment banker, filed for bankruptcy Monday.

“They’re too big to fail. AIG touches too many people and too many companies globally, and it would be much more of a disorderly event if it went bankrupt than it was with Lehman,” said Anton Schutz, president of Mendon Capital in Rochester, New York.

AIG shares closed Tuesday at $3.75 a share, compared with a peak of $70.13 during the past year.

Earlier, New York Governor David Paterson told CNBC that the insurer had “a day” to solve its problems. A failure would result in a “catastrophic problem” for the market, said Paterson, whose administration oversees regulation of AIG.