PG&E Shares Plunge 30% On Reports Of Possible Bankruptcy Filing

Hours after NPR reported that troubled California utility PG&E was weighing a sale of its natural gas division to cover potentially billions of dollars in fines that could result if its equipment is found to have caused the deadly and destructive wildfires in southern and northern California late last year and in 2017, Reuters followed up with a report that the company was weighing another bankruptcy filing for some or all of its business to protect itself from what could be billions of dollars in fines.

The report sent shares of the utility plunging 27% in late-day trading, sending them back toward their 15-year lows reached in November.

While the bankruptcy filing - which would be the company's second after a similar chain of events left the company filing for Chapter 11 in 2011 - is far from assured, it's one of several measures under consideration as the company braces for fines that could far exceed its insurance coverage, as well as dozens of lawsuits by victims who were impacted by the fires. There's still the possibility that the utility is effectively bailed out by California lawmakers, who could pass a law allowing it to pass on costs associated with the fires to its customers.

The company is considering the move as a contingency, in part because it will soon take a significant financial charge for the fourth quarter of 2018 related to liabilities from the blazes.

A bankruptcy filing is not certain, the sources said. The company could receive financial help through legislation that would let it pass on to customers costs associated with fire liabilities, the sources said. But that is just a possibility, they said, so bankruptcy preparations are being made.

In another sign that bankruptcy wouldn't be its first choice, Reuters said that as of Friday, the company was backing away from arranging a DIP loan - a step typically taken before a bankruptcy filing. However, the mere fact that it is contemplating such an option should be sufficient to scare what few equity investors PG&E has left.

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