Today Ted Sickinger of the Oregonian printed an excellent story, summarized at end of this post, noting that the public utility commission is “negotiating” to allow institutional investors in PGE to circumvent the law, as indicated by PUC analyst Bryan Conway. This is surprising and perhaps also a sign that the commission is still compromised by Neil Goldschmidt inspired utility interests, furthur compounded by Warren Buffet and his new considerable political clout via his ownership of Pacific Power. It was Buffett’s lieutenant David Sokol who led the effort to repeal the Public Utility Holding Company Act (PUCHA) that previously prevented such ownership positions without adequate disclosure to the SEC.
What the PUC needs to understand is that ownership by hedge funds is very dangerous to PGE’s long term stability given that it is not known what other investments they own and how they interact with PGE. For example, have they created derivatives based upon their shares, will they collapse due to subprime or other speculations and cause the stock to plummet, etc.? Or will they exercise board level authority via proxy and force a takeover by a related party.
The PUC has numerous tools, including the ability to punish PGE by pushing through a substantial utility rate reduction, in the event these institutional investors do not comply.
With Neil Goldschmidt back in town, one has to also wonder who is influencing these public utility commissioners, given that he and his former Tom Imeson annointed them. It is unlikely Goldschmidt is spending his days on the golf course.
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
The Oregonian Staff
Oregon regulators say they’re close to settling a dispute with a hedge fund that owns 7.4 percent of Portland General Electric Co. but has refused to comply with a state law requiring the partnership to seek regulatory approval of the investment.
Meanwhile, three more institutional investors have acquired stakes in Oregon’s largest utility exceeding the 5 percent threshold that triggers a possible Oregon Public Utility Commission review. Collectively, those four investors own about 30 percent of PGE’s stock.