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AIG's investors, awaiting CEO plan, uneasy ahead of results
[NEW YORK] For nearly two months, American International Group Inc has planned to replace its chief executive but a successor has yet to be named, creating a void that has stoked investor concerns about the insurance company's future.
Indeed, analysts and investors say they want to know more about the succession plans of AIG, which reports its first-quarter earnings on Wednesday.
CEO Peter Hancock said on March 9 he would depart once the board found a replacement, citing a lack of confidence among directors and investors.
But AIG has said little about the board's progress since then.
Chairman Douglas Steenland has said AIG's board remains committed to the existing turnaround effort. "The board and management team believe strongly that we are on the right strategic path," he said in a letter to shareholders last month.
Nonetheless, analysts doubt that a new chief executive would carry out Mr Hancock's strategy.
"We need to know" about the impending choice of CEO, said Sandler O'Neill analyst Paul Newsome. "The lack of a CEO puts the strategy for the company completely in play. There's a very large chance that with a different CEO, you are going to have a change in the strategy, despite what the board says." An AIG spokeswoman declined to comment.
Mr Hancock's resignation plans were announced shortly after AIG reported an unexpectedly deep loss on Feb 14, after the company underestimated the value of claims it would have to pay for a variety of insurance products.
Wall Street analysts are forecasting brighter results when AIG reports this week. They expect US$1.1 billion in quarterly profit, or US$1.08 per share, on average, according to Thomson Reuters data, a 37 per cent increase from a year earlier.
"The bad fourth quarter sets them up for a better start to this year," said Andrew Kohl, a portfolio manager at Alpine Wood Capital, who owns about 4,000 AIG shares in the financial services fund he oversees.
Kohl, who sold some AIG stock in January as the insurer's financial difficulties mounted, started to wade back in following media reports that Brian Duperreault, the current head of Hamilton Insurance Group Ltd, was among those being considered as AIG's new CEO.
An AIG spokesman said the company does not comment on speculation or rumor.
Several of AIG's largest investors, including Capital Research Global Investors, The Vanguard Group and State Street Global Advisors, would not comment for this story.
But some, including funds overseen by American Funds, T Rowe Price, FFAmerican Beacon and Invesco, have been buying AIG shares in recent weeks, according to data provided by Lipper.
Even so, as of Monday's close, the stock was down 2.9 per cent since Mr Hancock announced his planned departure. In the year to date, AIG shares have dropped 5.7 per cent compared with a 6.7 per cent rise in the benchmark S&P 500 stock index.
Mr Hancock's troubles began in 2015, when billionaire activists Carl Icahn and John Paulson began building stakes and later acquired board seats.
Mr Icahn, who is AIG's fourth-largest investor, wanted the insurer to split into three parts. Instead, Mr Hancock embarked on a two-year turnaround plan that involved cutting costs and selling chunks of the company, with the aim of returning US$25 billion to shareholders.
Mr Hancock achieved US$14.3 billion of that goal from the start of 2016 through Feb 14.
Experts have said it would be challenging to find someone capable who would want Mr Hancock's job, given the company's recent performance, and its board and financial difficulties in the broader insurance sector.
Though rising interest rates have helped insurers' profits, extreme weather claims, lower premiums and weak sales could weigh on results in the near-term, analysts said.
Still, some investors were hopeful that AIG would improve its bottomline, quickly. "You can't predict the weather," said Mr Kohl, "but you can control other aspects of your business."