Momentum begets momentum! The shares of troubled insurer American International Group (NYSE: AIG ) have gained about a third since Friday's close -- after having tripled since the end of July! The reason? Rep. Edolphus Towns, the leader of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has rallied behind former CEO Hank Greenberg's proposal to restructure government loans to AIG. Is that reason enough?
While the "crisis endgame" for most of the large financial institutions that received government support is now clear (see, for example, Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS ) , JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM ) , Bank of America (NYSE: BAC ) , or American Express (NYSE: AXP ) ), AIG's exit strategy is quite a bit murkier. In that respect, the insurer joins the ranks of mortgage giants Fannie Mae (NYSE: FNM ) and Freddie Mac.
Some encouraging signs
Part of incoming CEO Robert Benmosche's turnaround strategy has been to make peace with Greenberg. That is a wise decision. It is better to add Greenberg's clout and company knowledge to achieve a common goal (Greenberg remains one of the largest shareholders), than to work at cross-purposes. Benmosche is also willing to postpone asset sales in order to obtain better prices, another smart move that has Greenberg's support.
Is it worth an extra 30%?
Does Congressman Towns' support merit a 30%-plus uptick in market value? Reducing the interest rate on AIG's government loans and/or extending the maturities would benefit shareholders, but it's not clear at this stage that the measures will find widespread support.
Last week, I explained why AIG is purely a vehicle for speculation at this time, and the magnitude of the price move we are witnessing would appear to confirm it. Nothing wrong with that, but if you choose that route, don't confuse it with investing -- what Mr. Market gives in outsize daily gains, it can take away with equal alacrity.
Believe it or not, AIG's insurance activity is a high-quality business. Morgan Housel has identified three other high-quality companies that are still cheap.