PG&E shares hit multiyear low as deadly Camp Fire rages
- Trading in shares of Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) resumed this morning after initially plunging 23% and halting due to volatility triggered by damage from the Camp Fire in Butte County, California, which CalFire recorded as starting soon after the utility experienced an outage on Thursday morning.
- PG&E filed an electric safety incident report Thursday evening, reporting to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) news of the outage and damage to a transmission tower “approximately one mile north-east of the town of Pulga, in the area of the Camp Fire.” The cause of the fire remains under investigation.
- Camp Fire has become the most destructive fire in the state’s history, burning more than 6,700 buildings and killing at least 29 people. PG&E equipment has been the cause of several deadly wildfires in the state, and the investor-owned utility (IOU) has incurred more than $2 billion in costs, net of insurance recoveries, related to wildfires so far this year.
The deadly fire comes amid California’s efforts to reform wildfire mitigation, based on the demands of Senate Bill 901 and the continued threats of the state’s fire season.
The state has also been struggling to deal with the aftermath of wildfires, as PG&E warned of the potential for bankruptcy earlier this summer.
Every $1 billion of higher exposure to Camp Fire liability would hit Evercore’s price target outlook for PG&E by a little over $1/share, Evercore ISI analyst Greg Gordon told Bloomberg. PG&E currently has a $3.5 billion “exposure placeholder” for the fire, leading Gordon to cut his price target from $55 to $49.
SB 901 does not contain provisions regarding wildfire recovery for 2018 events, Goldman Sachs analyst Michael Lapides told Bloomberg.
SB 901 originally would have changed the state’s interpretation of “inverse condemnation” laws, which made utilities liable for fire damages involving their equipment regardless of negligence. The controversial change was cut from the final version, but eight other provisions address IOU exposure to wildfire damage liability.
Firefighters were able to curb Camp Fire’s growth on Sunday, and the strong winds that helped spread the fire are forecast to lessen by Monday, the San Francisco Gate reported. The fire had grown to 110,000 acres on Sunday.
PG&E provided support to first responders and local agencies, turning off electricity and gas service to certain customers as a precaution, according to its press statement. The utility also reported on Friday power outages due to fire-damaged equipment.
In Los Angeles and Ventura counties, another large fire has been raging this weekend, affecting Southern California Edison’s (SCE) service area. The Woolsey Fire grew to 83,000 acres on Sunday, destroying an estimated 177 homes and killing at least two people.
Investor concern for PG&E and Edison International, SCE’s parent company, is expected to continue as the fires grow, Lapides told Bloomberg. Both stocks plunged as the market opened on Monday.
In its recent 10-K filing, SCE told federal regulators its equipment may have sparked a 2017 fire which led to two deaths, and which may have created conditions for a mudslide in the area that killed 21 people. SCE is being sued over the blaze and it informed the Securities and Exchange Commission that it expects to incur losses as a result.