When the historians finally finish sorting through the appalling decisions that have been made in the past two years, this one will probably be at the top of the heap.
Last fall, as AIG began to realize how screwed it was, it started negotiating with the counterparties to all the credit default swaps it had written. One of AIG's goals was to persuade these counterparties--including Goldman Sachs--to accept buyouts as low as 40 cents on the dollar.
Then Tim Geithner, head of the New York Fed, stepped in.
A few weeks later, the counterparties--all of whom voluntarily did business with AIG--were bailed out at par: 100 cents on the dollar.
Bloomberg has the whole sickening story:
By Sept. 16, 2008, AIG, once the world's largest insurer, was running out of cash, and the U.S. government stepped in with a rescue plan. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the regional Fed office with special responsibility for Wall Street [run by Tim Geithner], opened an $85 billion credit line for New York-based AIG. That bought it 77.9 percent of AIG and effective control of the insurer.
The government's commitment to AIG through credit facilities and investments would eventually add up to $182.3 billion.
Beginning late in the week of Nov. 3, the New York Fed, led by President Timothy Geithner, took over negotiations with the banks from AIG, together with the Treasury Department and Chairman Ben S. Bernanke's Federal Reserve. Geithner's team circulated a draft term sheet outlining how the New York Fed wanted to deal with the swaps -- insurance-like contracts that backed soured collateralized-debt obligations...
Part of a sentence in the document was crossed out. It contained a blank space that was intended to show the amount of the haircut the banks would take, according to people who saw the term sheet. After less than a week of private negotiations with the banks, the New York Fed instructed AIG to pay them par, or 100 cents on the dollar. The content of its deliberations has never been made public...
The New York Fed's decision to pay the banks in full cost AIG -- and thus American taxpayers -- at least $13 billion. That's 40 percent of the $32.5 billion AIG paid to retire the swaps. Under the agreement, the government and its taxpayers became owners of the dubious CDOs, whose face value was $62 billion and for which AIG paid the market price of $29.6 billion. The CDOs were shunted into a Fed-run entity called Maiden Lane III.