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The massive now mostly-government owned insurer American International Group is slated to shell out billions of dollars to hedge funds that bet against the US housing market, according to documents reviewed by the Wall Street Journal.
In other words, vulture investors that bet the US housing market would crumble are scheduled to receive billions of dollars in premiums on their bets, even though many of them never had a material investment in the housing market. And the cash paid out to these investors is coming from US taxpayers, who bailed out AIG.
To use a metaphor, AIG was the casino that couldn't do math and the hedge funds are successful, well-schooled gamblers.
Hedge funds are typically only open to superrich investors, in part because of their high risk, and hold much of the market for betting against the stocks of certain industries or companies.
"The documents show how Wall Street banks were middlemen in trades with hedge funds and AIG that left the giant insurer holding the bag on billions of dollars of assets tied to souring mortgages," the Journal's Serena Ng reported. "AIG has put in escrow some money for at least one major bank, Deutsche Bank AG, whose hedge-fund clients made bets against the housing market, according to a person familiar with the matter. The money will be released to the bank if mortgage defaults rise above a certain level."
"In essence, while the U.S. government is busy trying to prop up the housing market -- by trying to limit foreclosures, among other things -- it is simultaneously putting up cash that could be used to pay off investors who bet housing prices would tumble and many mortgage holders would default," Ng added.