PG&E shares plunge on bankruptcy worries

PG&E crew work on power lines to repair damage caused by the Camp Fire in Paradise California

Dubbed "Project Falcon", the utility is considering whether or not to sell off its natural gas division this spring, with net proceeds of the sale being used to establish a fund to pay billions in potential liability costs stemming from the wildfires.

Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. could face billions of dollars in potential liability involving massive wildfires in California - some of which have already been linked to equipment operated by the company.

The company's roughly $18 billion in bonds also fell on Monday, with over 80 percent of the issues trading down.

Some of California's most destructive wildfires on record occurred in 2017 and 2018.

Over the last two years, the massive number of severe wildfires in California have placed insurance companies in the state under serious financial pressure. The company could be engaged in similar brinkmanship now, he said.

California Public Utilities Commission chief Michael Picker said that same month that he couldn't imagine allowing the state's largest utility to go into bankruptcy. Federal prosecutors who secured felony convictions against PG&E after the deadly 2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion have said the fires could represent a violation of the terms of probation the utility received in the San Bruno case.

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PG&E is reportedly considering bankruptcy protection if it gets slapped with a fourth quarter earnings charge for potential liabilities due to the recent wildfires.

The company didn't immediately reply to an email seeking comment on Monday. "We argue bankruptcy may be a substantive solution for several of PCG's woes, and should be considered a credible risk by shareholders".

Cal Fire, which is investigating the Camp Fire, has yet to determine the exact cause of the fire. "We recognize the need to balance the interests of many stakeholders while maintaining safe, reliable, and affordable services for our customers, which is always our top priority". But they added that "exploitive tactics and a reticence toward change will not improve" the company's profile. People familiar with the situation said on Friday the company was considering bankruptcy as an option, something it did do in 2001 during the California energy crisis.

"Without adequate political and regulatory support, we can not rule out a Chapter 11 filing", Christopher Turnure analyst at J.P. Morgan said in a note.

Konolige, meanwhile, wouldn't rule out what he called a strategic bankruptcy.

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