(Corrects Sanford Bernstein to Sandler O‘Neill in fifth paragraph)
By Suzanne Barlyn
May 2 (Reuters) - 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 fueled investor concern about the insurance company’s future.
AIG reports its first-quarter earnings on Wednesday and analysts and investors said they want to know more about AIG’s succession plans. Chief Executive Officer Peter Hancock announced on March 9 that 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 that AIG’s board remains committed to the existing turnaround effort, but analysts are doubtful over whether a new CEO would carry out Hancock’s strategy.
“We need to know,” said Sandler O‘Neill analyst Paul Newsome, of the upcoming CEO pick. “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.”
Hancock’s resignation plans were announced shortly after AIG reported an unexpectedly wide loss on Feb. 14, saying the company had underestimated for years the claims it would have to pay for a variety of insurance products.
Wall Street is forecasting brighter results when AIG reports later this week. Analysts expect $1.1 billion in quarterly profit, or $1.08 per share, on average, according to Thomson Reuters data, a 37 percent increase from the year-ago period.
“The bad fourth quarter sets them up to a better start for 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 had sold some AIG stock in January as the insurer’s financial difficulties mounted, started to wade back in after media reports that Brian Duperreault, the current head of Hamilton Insurance Group Ltd, was among those being considered as the 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, American 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 percent since Hancock announced his planned departure. Year to date, AIG shares are down 5.7 percent compared with a 6.7 percent rise in the S&P 500 Index.
Hancock’s troubles began in 2015, when billionaire activists Carl Icahn and John Paulson began building stakes and later acquired board seats.
Icahn, who is AIG's fourth-largest investor, wanted the insurer to split into three parts. Instead, Hancock embarked on a two-year turnaround plan that involved cutting costs and selling off chunks of the company, intending to returning $25 billion to shareholders. (reut.rs/1kp8P4I)
Hancock achieved $14.3 billion of that goal from the start of 2016 through Feb. 14.
Experts have said it would be tough to find someone capable who would want Hancock’s job, given the company’s recent performance, its demanding board and financial difficulties in the broader insurance sector.
Even though rising interest rates are helping insurers’ profits, extreme weather claims, lower premiums and weak sales could all weigh on results in the near-term, analysts said. Despite those broader issues, investors said they expect AIG to improve its bottom line, quickly.
“You can’t predict the weather,” said Kohl, “but you can control other aspects of your business.”
Reporting by Suzanne Barlyn; editing by Lauren Tara LaCapra and Diane Craft