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Bailout over, US plans to sell its holdings in AIG

Taxpayers will soon shed their last holdings in the American International Group, more than four years after a rescue by the federal government during the most chaotic days of the financial crisis.

The Treasury Department said Monday that it planned to sell all of its remaining 234.2 million shares, or 15.9 percent of the company, in a public offering. At current prices, that would raise more than $7.8 billion.

The stock sale, if completed, would realize a goal few dreamed possible in September 2008. As Lehman Bros. filed for bankruptcy, government officials scrambled to rescue AIG, which had become deeply intertwined with many Wall Street and European banks through its underwriting of credit-default swaps. The fear was that a collapse of the insurance giant could bring down the global financial system.

In the crisis, the government ended up extending lifelines to a number of financial institutions and to companies like General Motors. But it was the bailout of AIG that resonated most deeply among the American public as a symbol of risk-taking and excess on Wall Street — and Washington’s complicity in it. At one point, the government had made more than $182 billion available to support AIG. Billions of that went to pay claims that the banks had on the insurer.

—Michael J. De La Merced, The New York Times

European Union officials accept Nobel Peace Prize

OSLO, Norway — Besieged by economic woes and insistent questions about its future, the European Union accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on Monday with calls for further integration and a plea to remember the words of Abraham Lincoln as he addressed a divided nation at Gettysburg.

The prize ceremony, held in Oslo’s City Hall and attended by 20 European leaders as well as Norway’s royal family, brought a rare respite from the gloom that has settled on the European Union since the Greek debt crisis exploded three years ago, unleashing doubt about the long-term viability of the euro and about an edifice of European institutions built up over more than half a century to promote an ever closer union.

Unemployment — now at over 25 percent in Greece and Spain — and sputtering economic growth across the 27-nation bloc are “putting the political bonds of our union to the test,” Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, said in his acceptance speech. “If I can borrow the words of Abraham Lincoln at the time of another continental test, what is being assessed today is whether that union, or any union so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.”

—Andrew Higgins, The New York Times

China’s exports rise 2.9 percent in November

HONG KONG — Exports from China edged up 2.9 percent in November, far less than analysts had expected, highlighting the crucial role that home-grown stimulus and reforms will play in the renewal of China’s acceleration while the trajectory of global demand remains highly uncertain.

After slowing sharply this year, the Chinese economy began to bottom out in September, but then perked up again. Data released Sunday reinforced the view that China would most likely avoid a sudden, sharp slowdown — a “hard landing” — at least for now.

Industrial production grew 10.1 percent and retail sales grew 14.9 percent in November from a year earlier. Both figures were higher than those recorded in October, showing that the modest rebound of the last few months had continued to gain traction.

—Bettina Wassener, The New York Times