The Ratings Game: PG&E stock plunges toward record low after Citi warns it could be worthless

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Shares of PG&E Corp. plummeted on heavy volume toward a record low Friday, after Citigroup warned that the latest California wildfire, which the utility may have helped start, could render them worthless.

PG&E PCG, -30.56%  said Friday that it filed an incident report with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) regarding the “Kincade” fire, which broke out near Geyserville in Sonoma County.

“Kincade increases the probability of a zero share price.”

Citigroup analyst Praful Mehta, in a research note.

The report said PG&E “became aware” late Wednesday of a transmission outage when a line relayed did not close. CAL FIRE had brought to the attention of a PG&E Troubleman responding Thursday morning to the outage “what appeared to be a broken jumper” on the same wire tower.

Don’t miss: Wind-blown wildfire roars in California’s wine country as hundreds of thousands without power.

PG&E’s PCG, -30.56%   stock plummeted 30% in afternoon trading, to fall well below the previous record low close of $6.36 on Jan. 17, 2019, which was nearly two weeks before the utility filed for bankruptcy. Trading volume swelled to 58.9 million shares, compared with the full-day average of about 13.5 million shares.

Citigroup analyst Praful Mehta said it’s not clear if PG&E equipment was involved in the starting of the Kincade fire.

“Shareholders are worried. And should be,” Mehta wrote in a note to clients. “Kincade increases the probability of a zero share price.”

Mehta rates PG&E share “high risk” sell, with a current stock price target of $5.00.

Tens of thousands of Californians near Los Angeles and Sonoma County have been forced to evacuate to escape wildfires, which are being fueled by strong winds and dry conditions. PG&E has cut off power in some areas to avoid its equipment sparking fires, as happened in devastating fires in recent years that have forced the company into bankruptcy.

Don’t miss: Wind-blown wildfire roars in California’s wine country as hundreds of thousands without power.

The utility on Friday warned of further power cuts beginning Saturday that it said would be on the magnitude of cuts conducted earlier this month.

Also read: California regulator blasts PG&E over massive power outages.

Mehta said any recovery through a wildfire fund set up by the state, through Assembly Bill 1054 would be limited to 40%. And any damages from a 2019 fire may be treated as post-petition claims that could recover 100 cents on the dollar.

See related: PG&E’s creditors offer $30 billion plan to exit bankruptcy, new name for battered utility.

He said if Kincade or any large fire does cause significant damage, claim estimates and financing plans will likely get delayed.

“Significant liabilities also make it more likely for the bondholders (and their plan) to step in rather than the shareholders given the high basis of existing equity holders,” Mehta wrote. “Overall, the probability of a zero equity value continues to increase.”

PG&E shares have plummeted 79% year to date, while the SPDR Utilities Select Sector exchange-traded fund XLU, -1.08%  has rallied 21% and the S&P 500 index SPX, +0.41%  has climbed 21%.