Is It Time to Forgive A.I.G.?

Now that it's profitable, pundits are willing to give America's most hated $182-billion ward a break.

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AIG--yes that AIG, the subject of countless screeds, jeremiads and diatribes--is profitable again. In some financial writers' eyes, this is one more reason to begin forgiving America's most-loathed corporation. The company has enjoyed a breeze of good press in recent days that has been more likely to cast them as prodigal sheep than nefarious villains.

This is how the Wall Street Journal refers to the company in today's defense of ex-CEO Hank Greenberg:

Take only the $19 billion in losses that AIG suffered in its securities-lending business, the result of decisions made after Mr. Greenberg’s firing...Consider the subsequent $173 billion in taxpayer assistance to AIG and the demolition of a great American company, and it is nothing short of tragic."

Why is everyone feeling warmer toward AIG? One the one hand, there's an opportunity to make an easy buck. On the other hand, there's a vague sense that the frothing anger of earlier this year may have gone a little too far.

For a taste of the gentler, homier portrayals of AIG from market analysts, see:

  • Douglas McIntyre: "A great deal of credit for the results should go to Ed Liddy, the departing chairman and CEO." (Finance Daily)
  • Colin Barr: "AIG is everyone's favorite lottery ticket." (Fortune)
  • Bob O'Brien: "The second-quarter results turned in by American International Group (AIG) certainly validated the optimism of the investors..." (Barron's)

But for the sake of remembering how far the pendulum has swung, here are some choice vituperations from earlier this year.

  • Matt Taibbi: "AIG is what happens when short, bald managers of otherwise boring financial bureaucracies start seeing Brad Pitt in the mirror." (Rolling Stone)
  • Simon Johnson and James Kwak: "A.I.G. can hardly claim that its generous bonuses attract the best and the brightest." (NY Times)
  • Meg Marco: "Worst Company in America." (poll reported in the Consumerist)
  • Jonathan Macey: "What's good for AIG is definitely not good for the country" (interviewed in the Washington Post)

Has the much-ballyhooed public outrage--which caused one employee to confess he had a "horrible horrible horrible feeling" to the Washington Post in March--finally passed?

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