* Big charges at aircraft unit raise fresh questions
* Company holds first earnings call in years
* Shares fall 4.5 percent, only index decliner
NEW YORK, Feb 25 (Reuters) - American International Group Inc (AIG.N) turned a huge fourth-quarter profit, but shares fell sharply on Friday amid questions about weakness at its huge property insurance business and its aircraft leasing unit.
Shares in AIG fell 4.5 percent to $38.63 in morning trading, making them the only decliner in the Standard & Poor’s insurance index .GSPINSC. Since Jan. 20, when it was adjusted for a warrant distributed to shareholders, the stock is down more than 14 percent.
Still, the U.S. Treasury stands to make a profit of nearly $17 billion at current levels when it sells off its 92 percent stake in the company. That stake is the culmination of a series of transactions over the course of AIG’s $182 billion bailout.
AIG held its first earnings conference call in more than two years on Friday, part of its strategy to engage investors more ahead of a $15 billion-plus share sale in March or May.
Some of the most pointed questions were about Chartis, the property insurance business that added more than $4 billion to reserves in the last quarter to pay for older claims; and ILFC, the aircraft leasing business that has taken more than $1 billion in charges in the last six months.
AIG Chief Executive Bob Benmosche, asked what Chartis was now if it used to be the 800-pound gorilla of the global property insurance business, joked: “We’re about 780 pounds and on our way back.”
Excluding an acquisition in Japan, Chartis’s business was down in the fourth quarter, a consequence of a tough market that Benmosche said was forcing AIG to make hard choices about the kinds of business it wanted to write.
The company also faced questions about the future of ILFC, the world’s largest aircraft leasing business. ILFC has taken huge writedowns two quarters running for the declining value of older planes.
Benmosche said he did not expect any more of those large charges and ILFC should be profitable this year. He also said, as he has frequently in past, that AIG will work to grow ILFC but would also gladly sell it for the right price. (Reporting by Ben Berkowitz, editing by Gerald E. McCormick)