Associated Press Writer
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway attempted to calm investors Tuesday who were concerned by news that federal regulators want to question the billionaire investment guru about reinsurance products that one of his companies issued to embattled AIG.
Buffett will give an interview soon to investigators probing General Reinsurance Corp.'s transactions with American International Group Inc., officials with his holding company, Berkshire Hathaway Inc., said Tuesday in a news release.
Berkshire said Buffett was not briefed on the transactions' structures, nor does it expect to restate its financial reports. Berkshire and General Re, which is based in Stamford, Conn., have been actively cooperating with the reinsurance investigation, the company said.
``A number of Berkshire/Gen Re representatives have voluntarily given interviews to the investigating authorities, and Mr. Buffett will shortly do so as well,'' the company said.
Berkshire's Class A stock closed Tuesday on the New York Stock Exchange at $87,000, up $200 or 0.23 percent after being down for much of the session. Berkshire's stock has ranged from a 52-week high of $95,650 on April 12 to a low of $81,150 on Oct. 25.
Cathy Seifert, an equity analyst with Standard & Poor's Equity Research Services, said uncertainty in the face of the investigation is likely to undermine Berkshire's stock. She lowered her 12-month target price for Berkshire from $85,000 to $80,000.
Buffett's reputation as an investor is part of what gives Berkshire's stock its premium value, and if that is besmirched, the stock could suffer further, Seifert said.
``At the end of the day, shareholders should hold top management accountable,'' Seifert said.
A person familiar with the investigation told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the Securities and Exchange Commission asked Buffett to answer questions on a controversial insurance transaction between General Re and AIG of New York. The request was reported in Tuesday's editions of The Wall Street Journal.
Citing unidentified sources familiar with the case, the Journal said regulators expect to ask Buffett about documents and witnesses they believe indicate he was involved early on in discussions about the transaction which took place in 2000, including its structure.
Berkshire officials, however, said Buffett had not been briefed ``on how the transactions were to be structured or on any improper use or purpose of the transactions.''
The man who built AIG into one of the world's largest insurers, Maurice ``Hank'' Greenberg, said he is retiring as chairman, two weeks after board members ousted him as chief executive because of intensifying regulatory probes into the company's past financial transactions.
Greenberg and his company face an expanding probe by the SEC and New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer.
Under investigation are a number of reinsurance transactions _ insurance purchased by insurance companies _ that regulators contend were designed to improve AIG's financial statements without the transfer of risk. Risk transfer is necessary for a deal to be an insurance transaction and determines how it's carried on a company's books.
Buffett, 74, has built a financial powerhouse in Berkshire, which has a market value of more than $100 billion. His annual report on Berkshire has become famous for its comments on business management, including Buffett's belief that corporate stock options should be accounted for as an expense.
Many of Buffett's investments, which include large holdings in Coca-Cola and American Express and ownership of candy, jewelry and furniture companies, have been funded by money that his insurance businesses hold in premiums not yet paid out on claims.
General Re, which Berkshire acquired in 1998, has been the object of several recent reinsurance investigations, including one in which a U.S. attorney's office in Virginia has been probing Reciprocal of America, a former liability insurer of doctors, hospitals and lawyers.
Earlier this month, Berkshire officials said four current and former employees of General Reinsurance, including a former president, were included in subpoenas in that investigation.
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Berkshire Hathaway Inc.: https://www.berkshirehathaway.com