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PG&E stock price has 75% chance of going to zero: Citi analyst

Akiko Fujita
Anchor/Reporter

California Governor Gavin Newsom’s threat to nationalize Pacific Gas and Electric (PCG) provides a lift to a restructuring plan led by its bondholders that would all but wipe out PG&E’s shareholders.

Speaking to Yahoo Finance’s The Ticker this week, Citi’s Praful Mehta said that plan backed by wildfire victims has a 75% chance of succeeding, pushing the “stock price to zero” and transforming California’s largest utility company as we know it.

“I don't think there is a credible plan for the state to step in right now, because that is an extremely complicated next step,” said Mehta, lead analyst for utilities and renewables at Citi. “But even if they can't step in, if they apply enough pressure here to get these two parties to agree to something, it might help get them to exit by June 2020.”

Firefighters set a back fire along a hillside near PG&E power lines during firefighting operations to battle the Kincade Fire in Healdsburg, California on October 26, 2019.Photo by PHILIP PACHECO/AFP via Getty Images)

PG&E is under pressure to meet a state-mandated deadline to exit Chapter 11 bankruptcy by June 30 of next year.

But the utility company suffered a legal setback last month, when a federal bankruptcy judge ruled that it no longer had the exclusive right to shape the terms of its reorganization.

That opened the door for a competing proposal, drawn up by PG&E bondholders, including activist hedge fund Elliott Management Corp. and Pacific Investment Management Co. Their plan sets aside $14.5 billion for them and leaves current shareholders with a tiny stake in PG&E.

The utility has argued the bondholder proposal is an attempt to “pay themselves more than they are entitled to.” It has instead offered up reorganization plan that would cap individual victims claims at $8.4 billion, while insurers or insurance claim holders would get $11 billion under a settlement.

“We have a 75% probability that the bondholder plan succeeds in which case the current shareholders get diluted to zero, the stock price will zero,” Mehta said. “We have 25% scenario that the PG&E stock, a PG&E plan succeeds in which case the stock is worth about $20 to $22 a share.”

PG&E was trading at $7.67 per share just before the market opened on Tuesday.

PG&E filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in January, saying it faced $30 billion in liability claims stemming from wildfires, including the deadly Camp Fire. An investigation by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection found that PG&E’s electrical transmission lines caused the blaze that killed 85 people and destroyed nearly 19,000 homes in Paradise, California, last year.

That disaster prompted the utility company to cut power to millions of customers last month, to reduce the fire risk.

Newsom has offered to broker a mediation between the competing parties, calling for a meeting to jumpstart negotiations this week.

"It is my hope that the stakeholders in PG&E will put parochial interests aside and reach a negotiated resolution so that we can create this new company and forever put the old PG&E behind us,” Newsom said in a statement. “If the parties fail to reach an agreement quickly to begin this process of transformation, the state will not hesitate to step in and restructure the utility.”

Akiko Fujita is an anchor and reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @AkikoFujita

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