World and Nation

Shorts (left)

A Remake Of AIG Is The Goal Of Rescue

By easing the terms of its $150 billion rescue package for the American International Group, the government is trying to buy time for the financial conglomerate to slim down and reinvent itself as a simple property and casualty insurer, with a new name, new faces in the boardroom and perhaps an initial public offering in its future.

The government will meanwhile take a preferred stake in the company’s crown assets in its fourth attempt to stanch the flow of problems from the insurance giant. The worldwide life insurance division and the Asian insurance operations are being taken off the block, because they are too hard to sell for a reasonable price in the current market and are essentially being used to repay expensive government loans.

The company said Monday that it would create a new holding company, called AIU Holdings, and install its domestic and foreign property and casualty insurance businesses there — with more than 44,000 employees and customers in 130 countries.

China Gets, If Not Relics, At Least A Chance To Snicker At Christie’s

A Chinese man’s assertion that he sabotaged the auction of two Qing dynasty bronzes at Christie’s in Paris last week handed Beijing a wry public-relations coup on Monday after it battled for months to block the sale.

A Chinese collector and auctioneer, Cai Mingchao, said at a news conference in Beijing that he had submitted the two winning $18 million bids for the bronze heads of a rat and a rabbit on Wednesday, but that he had no intention of paying for them. He described himself as a consultant for a nongovernmental group that seeks to bring looted artifacts back to China, and said he had acted out of patriotic duty.

Beijing had vigorously protested the sale of the heads, saying they were looted from an imperial palace outside Beijing in the 19th century and should be returned to China. A group of Chinese lawyers tried to block the auction, but a French court allowed it to proceed. Several Western cultural-property experts said that whatever moral arguments might favor Beijing, it had no legal claim to the bronzes.

Chip Makers’ Sales Plunge As Consumers Cut Back

While accustomed to the boom-and-bust nature of their industry, the companies making the semiconductor chips that run computers, cell phones, digital cameras and even cars find themselves in the middle of a collapse in sales that resembles total chaos.

With sales of most manufactured goods plunging in this recession, demand for chips is evaporating. In January alone, chip sales plummeted by almost a third from the previous year, to $15.3 billion, according to the Semiconductor Industry Association.

“This is the worst recession the semiconductor industry has seen since its inception,” said Sean M. Maloney, the chief sales and marketing officer at Intel, at a news conference Monday.

Consumers have benefited from some of the underlying turmoil. Smartphones and the cheap laptops known as netbooks are getting more powerful even as they drop in price. And the prices for the memory chips used to store information in iPods, digital cameras and cable set-top boxes are plummeting as the companies making the products grapple with overcapacity at their factories.

Major chip makers like Intel, Advanced Micro Devices and Nvidia have felt the sting of businesses and consumers curtailing their spending on computers.