This is a rush transcript from "Your World With Neil Cavuto," January 6, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: Are taxpayers getting their money's worth from their bailout bucks?
Former AIG chief Hank Greenberg just firing off a letter to AIG's board. He's ticked off that the insurer, which has already gotten the 152 billion bucks from the government, is looking to sell off one of its units at a fire-sale price.
Hank Greenberg joining me right now in an exclusive chat.
Always good to see you, my friend. Happy new year.
HANK GREENBERG, FORMER CEO, AMERICA INTERNATIONAL GROUP: Good to see you, Neil. Happy new year.
CAVUTO: The gist of this was, you think they are — they are acting recklessly and in an alarming way, right? They're just giving stuff away.
GREENBERG: Well, in this environment, it is pretty hard to get fair value for assets. And it is the wrong strategy. You should be building AIG to pay back the taxpayer.
CAVUTO: But you wouldn't sell anything?
GREENBERG: Not now.
CAVUTO: ... so distressed that it...
GREENBERG: Yes. Why would you sell it now at a giveaway price?
CAVUTO: So, you would until times improve before you would start.
GREENBERG: You need a longer-term period to pay back the government at a fair interest rate and take the government down from 79.9 percent, which essentially nationalized the company. Bring them down to 15 percent. That's twice what Citigroup has given the government. Why would you have such differences in plans? Why would Citigroup.
CAVUTO: Well, what has happened to the $150 billion, $160 billion AIG has gotten?
GREENBERG: Well, I can't tell you. But I don't think it's all — I think that's a lump number. Part of is commercial paper that no longer exists really. And most everybody is getting commercial paper from the Fed, because there is no commercial paper market to speak of.
CAVUTO: But you know this stuff inside and out, but to help our viewers out, and stepping back, they look at this — a lot of taxpayers look at this thing and say, my gosh. AIG has gotten all of this money, and it's still a hurting puppy. So, maybe we should just — you know, we're digging a hole. Just stop digging. Stop giving money to entities like AIG. Stop giving money, period.
GREENBERG: Look, what is the role of government in this?
It seems to me that you want to — the first thing, you want to pay back the taxpayer, OK? Pay them back over a period of time at a fair rate of interest. Do not expect the government to try and make a lot of money on the deal. What you want to do is get the company back so it's a taxpayer and an employer. Isn't that what we are trying to do? Isn't that what we should be trying to do?
CAVUTO: But isn't a goal that we do not want a major U.S. financial firm to go under? That is our more immediate issue.
CAVUTO: Let me ask you this.
CAVUTO: Do you think, with all this help, the direction AIG is going, it will still go under?
GREENBERG: Well, I think it depends who is managing the company.
CAVUTO: Well, you do not flip over the management now.
GREENBERG: Say again?
CAVUTO: You do not flip over the management now.
CAVUTO: This was a very nasty letter you sent.
GREENBERG: Oh, I thought it was a pretty — it thought it was a very good letter, actually.
CAVUTO: Well, a good letter, but it was nasty.
GREENBERG: It wasn't nasty. I was asking some questions that any major shareholders would want to have answered.
CAVUTO: What were you freaking thinking selling this unit?
CAVUTO: I'm kidding. I'm kidding. He didn't say that.
CAVUTO: All right. So...
GREENBERG: I may have been thinking that.
CAVUTO: You may have been thinking that.
CAVUTO: Well, let me ask you a little bit about — this comes at a time where we get reminders the economy could be getting worse. I just announced that Alcoa is going to lay off 13,500. You argued last time you were on the show — in fact, a year ago, when you were with me, you were saying this is going to be a long funk. How long?
GREENBERG: Yes. Two years.
CAVUTO: Wow. An '09, '10 event.
GREENBERG: '09, and some time in 2010, I think we will begin to see more daylight.
CAVUTO: So, if you are Barack Obama, and you are looking at this, how — do you stimulate away?
GREENBERG: I think you have to — I think have to stimulate, but we have to understand there is no free lunch. We are going to be paying for this for generations.
CAVUTO: Well, we haven't got the pay for this part down yet.
GREENBERG: We're going to have to pay for it. Who else is going to pay for it?
CAVUTO: How will we have to pay for it?
GREENBERG: We're going to pay for it in taxes, hopefully not inflation, which has been a...
CAVUTO: In other words, you see taxes going up?
CAVUTO: For everyone?
GREENBERG: It is going to have to come from — from a broad base, ultimately.
CAVUTO: Right. So, play that out. Once you have solved and put out the fire, as you analogized to me, then you have got to pay for that.
CAVUTO: And that is a multi-year, maybe multi-decade process.
GREENBERG: I think it is multi-decade. It isn't going to be multiyear. Think about the numbers that are going in. I am not saying we do not need a stimulus package. I think we do.
CAVUTO: But what about the type that Barack Obama has been kicking around, $800 billion?
GREENBERG: He's talking about, about, $350 billion for a tax reduction, thereabout, and about $500 billion in stimulus for...
CAVUTO: Is that about right to you?
GREENBERG: I can't tell you if that is right or wrong.
But I think we do need infrastructure development in our country. We are way behind in many areas. Our national grid, for example, is way behind, roads.
CAVUTO: So, you would be for a lot of things he has proposed, because he wants to build up the grids and build bridges and highways.
GREENBERG: Well, we need a lot of that. We need a lot of that. It is too bad we have to do it the way we are doing it, under duress, at a time when we just have to put more stimulus, which means more deficit spending, at a time when we already had a deficit. And so it's not the best of times, but we have to do it. What else are you going to do?
CAVUTO: But you're saying, again, to be clear, it is at least a two-year phenomenon.
GREENBERG: Yes. Close to two years, close to two years.
CAVUTO: And, after that, what?
GREENBERG: After that, I hope we're going to have some growth. And I think what I worry about at the end of that, we're going to have — how much inflation we're going to have.
CAVUTO: Because we're essentially printing our way through this, right?
GREENBERG: Well, how else are you going to do it?
CAVUTO: Right. Right.
All right. Hank Greenberg, good seeing you. I guess it wasn't that nasty a letter.
GREENBERG: No, I thought it was pretty good.
CAVUTO: Hot to hold.
CAVUTO: Hank Greenberg, thank you very much.
GREENBERG: Good to be with you, Neil.
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