Thursday, May 7, 2009

AIG Screws Chrysler and Taxpayers

The White House, auto executives and union representatives were all able to come to an agreement last week to keep Chrysler out of bankruptcy. But the car company's creditors -- Wall Street banks and hedge funds -- refused repeated compromises and drove the company under.

The refusal doomed a major American auto company to bankruptcy, but it may have been a smart business move for the lenders.

Many of the Wall Street firms holding Chrysler bonds may also own credit default swaps that they bought to hedge their bets. These swaps, which are essentially like an insurance policy on the bonds should Chrysler default, were likely mostly issued by AIG.

AIG, thanks to the government bailout, has paid off swaps in the past at 100 cents on the dollar. Under the deal they would have had to accept with Chrysler, the bondholders would have received as little as 30 cents on the dollar, for example.

Why take 30 or 35 cents on the dollar from Chrysler when you can get the whole buck from the American taxpayer?

"The basic story is very simple," says economist Dean Baker of the liberal-leaning Center for Economic and Policy Research. "If they hold credit default swaps on the bonds, they're totally happy with them defaulting."

In what would rank as one of the great scams of this financial crisis, government bailouts may be colliding. Wall Street may be raking in taxpayer dollars through AIG and returning the favor by driving the auto industry into bankruptcy.

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