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Big Insurer Seeks Cash as Portfolio Plummets

The big insurance company, the American International Group, was seeking a $40 billion bridge loan Sunday night from the Federal Reserve, as it faces a potential downgrade from credit ratings agencies that could spell its doom, a person briefed on the matter said.

Ratings agencies threatened to downgrade the insurance giant’s credit rating by Monday morning, allowing counterparties to withdraw capital from their contracts with the company. One person close to the firm said that if such an event occurred, A.I.G. may survive for only 48 hours to 72 hours.

A.I.G.’s sickly financial health emerged late into one of the most tumultuous days in Wall Street history. The investment bank, Lehman Brothers, filed for bankruptcy protection Monday, while Bank of America has agreed to buy Merrill Lynch for $50.03 billion.

A.I.G. has already raised $20 billion this year. But even that capital raise may not be enough.

Though this past weekend was convened to focus on Lehman, the Wall Street chieftains who gathered at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York also pondered a solution for A.I.G. The firm had become one of the biggest underwriters of complex debt securities known credit default swaps, used as insurance for a wide range of products, including the mortgage instruments that have been the bane of Wall Street for the past year and a half.

Eric Dinallo, the New York state insurance superintendent, has been deeply involved in discussions about A.I.G.’s survival, this person said.
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