A Good WSJ Scoop on AIG and Wall Street Research

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting scoop out today, reporting that AIG CEO Robert Benmosche is leaning on his counterparts whose analysts have issued negative research reports about the firm and who might want his business soon.

The lede is great, pointing out the constraints that Wall Street analysts still face a decade after Eliot Spitzer tried to drain the swamp (emphasis mine):

After several large Wall Street banks helped underwrite American International Group Inc.’s May stock sale, their analysts did something rare: publish biting research reports about the insurer.

Now, AIG’s chief is biting back.

And the paper does a nice job of putting its AIG-specific reporting in the context of the larger issue of corrupted research. It also threads it together with what Benmosche has said publicly. For instance, here’s some reporting on what Benmosche, who has lots of upcoming business to dole out, has been up to in private:

Chief Executive Robert Benmosche has complained to senior executives at investment banks about the unfavorable stock research, suggesting that some analysts don’t fully understand the company and its value, according to people familiar with the matter.

It is more than an academic argument: AIG is considering which four banks should lead another large offering of the U.S. government’s shares later this year—and Mr. Benmosche has told The Wall Street Journal he intends to change at least one of four lead underwriters following his dissatisfaction with how the last deal went…

Mr. Benmosche has told bankers that his decision on selecting underwriters for AIG’s coming stock offering won’t be based simply on the relationships they have with AIG executives and will take into account a number of factors, according to a person familiar with the matter. They include stock research, investment bankers’ understanding of the company and an analysis of which buyers in AIG’s May offering ended up holding the shares and which ones “flipped,” or quickly sold, them after the deal, the person said.

Though Mr. Benmosche expressed frustrations about the recent stock offering and said he wants banks to portray AIG accurately, he didn’t demand that they publish positive research, the person said.

And here’s what he has said publicly, to the Journal itself in June:

In the interview, Mr. Benmosche said that for the next offering of the government’s shares, he wants to see from the banks “a clear understanding of who AIG is and our trajectory, and why AIG is a stock that investors should own.”

“If I’m confident they can articulate that well, they will have a chance” at being selected as one of the four global coordinators for the next deal, he said at the time.

Between what AIG’s CEO is saying publicly and privately, his message is clear: If you want our business, stop slagging my company.

Already, two of the four banks that helped underwrite its last offering have “Buy” calls on AIG, whose shares trade at less than half its declared book value. Let’s hope the Journal and others keep an eye on AIG coverage in the coming months.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at rc2538@columbia.edu. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , , ,