PG&E Suspends Dividend, Citing Uncertainty Over Potential California Wildfire Liabilities

By Maria Armental Features Dow Jones Newswires

PG&E Corp. (PCG) is suspending its quarterly dividend, citing potential liabilities associated with the Northern California wildfires.

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In addition, the company's utility subsidiary Pacific Gas & Electric Co. also suspended preferred stock payouts.

PG&E shares, down 16% this year, fell 10% to $46.20 in after-hours trading Wednesday.

California fire officials and utility regulators continue to investigate the cause of the recent spate of wildfires, which have been burning since October. The company said in October regulators were analyzing whether power lines maintained by Pacific Gas & Electric, California's largest investor-owned utility, played a role in starting the fires.

The state investigation is expected to take months, but several lawsuits have already been filed against PG&E.

California courts have in some cases applied inverse condemnation to events caused by utility equipment. This means that if a utility's equipment is found to have been a substantial cause of the damage in an event such as a wildfire--even if the utility has followed established inspection and safety rules--the utility may still be liable for property damages and attorneys' fees associated with that event, the company said Wednesday.

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The utility spent $565 million to settle private lawsuits filed after a 2010 explosion of a natural gas pipeline in San Bruno, Calif., that left eight people dead and destroyed a neighborhood. It also received a $1.6 billion fine from the California Public Utilities Commission related to the explosion.

--Erin Ailworth and Sara Randazzo contributed to this article.

Write to Maria Armental at maria.armental@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

December 20, 2017 18:12 ET (23:12 GMT)