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U.S. Bore AIG Bailout Risk, but Foreign Banks Reaped the Rewards, Says Watchdog

A report by a government watchdog says that when the U.S. Treasury bailed out AIG, it may have propped up foreign banks as well, indirectly reaping more than $14 billion.

Foreign financial firms indirectly reaped more than $14 billion in U.S. taxpayer dollars through Goldman Sachs alone after the U.S. Treasury bailed out AIG, according to the government’s bailout watchdog.

That's just one example of how how the billions that the Treasury poured into the economy also bailed out foreign banks, according to a report released on Wednesday by the Congressional oversight panel. The report detailed how through Goldman Sachs, significant portions of the $70 billion that the Treasury committed to bailing out AIG has ended up in the hands of foreign investors. From the report:

Taxpayer aid to AIG became aid to Goldman, and aid to Goldman became aid to a number of domestic and foreign investors. In some cases, the aid was in the form of repayment in full of obligations that, without government help, could have ended in default.

As the Wall Street Journal noted last week ($), significant questions still remain about how Goldman calculated how much cash it was owed by AIG for its bets against the risky collateralized debt obligations that precipitated AIG’s collapse. (Goldman in a memo to regulators, responded, "We believe our marks were accurate," but acknowledged that "a certain degree of judgment was necessary.")

As it turns out, many foreign investors also took the same bets -- with Goldman as the middleman -- that called for such payouts. Those investors also took home billions when the Treasury bailed out AIG. Though the report calculated that foreign banks received $14 billion in bailout funds through Goldman, previous calculations of what they received in all -- and not just through Goldman -- were around $58 billion.

And that's not to mention the credit default swaps that Goldman Sachs took out to protect itself in case of AIG's failure. According to the Congressional oversight panel's report, when the U.S. government rescued AIG, it spared 87 companies -- about half of which were foreign -- from having to pay out insurance money to Goldman that they would've had to pay if AIG had been allowed to fail. Late last month, Goldman handed over a list of these companies to the Congressional oversight panel and the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission. According to that list (PDF), which was released by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, Goldman stood to receive $1.7 billion in payments if AIG had defaulted. (The panel's report suggests that the correct number may have been $2.8 billion.)

The full report is long [PDF], and the Goldman-AIG case study is one of the more detailed sections, but the report concludes that across the board, other bailed out institutions probably had similar relationships that would ultimately channel “significant indirect benefits” to foreign institutions. Given that the U.S. subprime mortgage bubble--and the securities derived from those risky mortgages--destabilized the global financial system and incurred losses for investors both domestic and foreign, perhaps it's not a surprise that the U.S. government's rescue has reached those foreign entities as well.

But the panel's chairman, Elizabeth Warren, noted that "the U.S. bore the whole $70 billion risk of the AIG capital injection program," only to have foreign banks reap billions in benefits. The U.S. should've been keeping better track of these funds and where they would go, according to the panel.

"Treasury gathered very little data on how TARP funds flowed overseas," read the panel's report. "As a result, neither students of the current crisis nor those dealing with future rescue efforts will have access to much of the information that would help them make well-informed decisions."

The report also emphasized that other countries tailored their bailout own programs more narrowly, and thus the U.S. received less benefit from their bailouts than foreign nations received from the U.S. bailout. According to The Washington Post, that left the United States “shouldering far more risk” than those nations.

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