"Six Insurers Named to Get U.S. Taxpayer Aid
Six major insurance companies have received preliminary approval to get billions of dollars in fresh capital as part of the government’s financial rescue program, a Treasury Department spokesman confirmed on Thursday.
The department said the Hartford Financial Services Group, Prudential Financial, Lincoln National, Allstate, Ameriprise and Principal Financial Group have all received approval for capital infusions, subject to terms still to be negotiated.
The Hartford, in a statement released late Thursday, said it was told it could receive $3.4 billion under the program.
Applying for the additional capital “was a prudent step for the Hartford, particularly given the continued economic uncertainty,” said Ramani Ayer, the company’s chairman and chief executive.
“These funds would further fortify our capital resources and provide us with additional financial flexibility during one of the most volatile market climates in our nation’s history,” Mr. Ayer continued. The other companies did not immediately provide details about the status of their application.
Under the program, each company is eligible to receive investments worth up to 3 percent of its total assets. Based on the Treasury formula, the amount of capital available to the other companies would be at least several billion dollars each.
While the extension of additional capital to insurers had been widely expected, these are the first companies that have been identified to receive aid after the near-collapse of American International Group. According to the Treasury spokesman, Andrew Williams, these insurers qualified for capital infusions under the department’s Capital Purchase Program because each had restructured itself as a bank holding company and met the November deadline for the program.
Hundreds of other financial institutions are still in the pipeline for review and will be approved on a rolling basis, the Treasury Department said.
As the financial crisis erupted last fall, A.I.G. became the first insurer to receive substantial government aid before a broad-based program to help financial firms was established. Its problems stemmed from complex derivatives that greatly increased its obligations to its trading partners.
This recent group of insurers is far less troubled than A.I.G., but they still have been hurt by the collapse in real estate prices. Amid the housing boom, many insurers invested in complex mortgage-related securities that have since turned sour, weakening their balance sheets.
Indeed, several insurance companies took extraordinary steps to qualify for taxpayer money, which has become even more attractive as the economic environment has worsened.
For example, Lincoln National and the Hartford both bought up smaller banks to qualify as savings banks, which made them eligible for government support.
“You want the regulatory program to be as broad as possible,” said Scott E. Talbott, a lobbyist for the Financial Roundtable, a group of the nation’s biggest financial services companies. “If all it took was regulatory gymnastics, that expands the program.”
The Capital Purchase Program is part of the sweeping bailout of financial institutions that grew out of the panic that hit in mid-September.
At that time, the Treasury Department, with the backing of the Federal Reserve chairman, Ben S. Bernanke, asked Congress for $700 billion to buy up mortgage-backed securities whose value had dropped sharply or had become impossible to sell, in what he called the Troubled Asset Rescue Plan, or TARP.
As the financial crisis worsened, the TARP plan was modified and expanded to include various support programs set up by the Treasury and the Federal Reserve, ranging from an ad hoc temporary guarantee program for money market funds to the purchase of preferred shares in various financial institutions."