California Utilities Implode, Lose A Third Of Their Value In 2 Days On Massive Fire Damages

With the two giant wildfires in northern and southern California projected to result in $25 billion in damages, the shares of California's two largest utility owners have crashed the most in  nearly two decades - since the power crisis at the start of the century.

Trading in PG&E was briefly halted after shares crashed for a second day, triggering a volatility break. The stock has lost 44% of its value in the two trading days since the Camp Fire broke out north of San Francisco last week.

Meanwhile, Edison International is down 30% since a fire broke out near Los Angeles. According to Bloomberg, for both companies, the two-day declines are among the steepest since power shortages triggered rolling blackouts across the state in 2000 to 2001.

The sellside was quick to slam the companies: Evercore ISI cut PG&E’s PT to $49 from $55, based on a $3.5 billion "exposure placeholder" for the Camp fire; says every $1b of higher exposure to Camp fire liability would hit Evercore’s PT by a little over $1/share. According to the report, PG&E fell 16.5% on Friday, and stock is trading just above book value as at the end of third quarter of $37.60/share; which means that shares are discounting over $20BN of exposure to fire liabilities, and "it could trade lower, but we think there is value here."

Separately, Goldman Sachs analyst Michael Lapides expects incremental investor concern for PG&E and Edison as the fires continue to grow. He adds that the California’s wildfire legislation that passed in late August (SB901) doesn’t contain provisions regarding wildfire recovery for potential 2018 fires.

Finally, Morgan Stanley’s Stephen Byrd writes that PCG/EIX shares now reflect $17b/$5b for 2017-2018 fires, including a permanent 25%/20% discount to peers, adding that the "implied damage likely exceeds shareholder liability and underscores need for further reforms."

The so-called Camp Fire in Northern California and the Woolsey Fire in suburban Los Angeles have destroyed more than 6,700 structures and could cost the state, insurers and homeowners $25 billion or more in damages.