Last week may prove memorable for what it wasn’t, as much as for what it was, when it came to energy companies and the New York Stock Exchange. It was a miserable week, all in all, with the only bright edges seen on Friday, when the shares of most of the merchants and utilities saw a little daylight. Wary investors may have hedged their bets a little, because energy stocks were lower overall than they’ve been in years.
What may have been most shocking to analysts and corporations alike were the types of companies that were falling last week into the death spiral that has captured the energy marketers like Dynegy Inc., Mirant Corp., Aquila Inc. and Reliant Resources Inc. The merchants continue to trade well below their height last year. But last week, it was the conservative, old-line utilities that were pulled into the abyss.
The week began with TXU Corp. losing investors’ confidence at a clip unheard of for more than 22 years at the Dallas-based utility. After beginning October with a stock price of just under $40 a share, the company took a walk on the wild side last week, at times appearing as if no floor was too low. It was, as TXU Corp. CEO Erle Nye understated, “in effect, sort of a panic situation.” After closing down at $14.65 on Wednesday, the utility slowly began to see daylight once again, but trading remained heavy through the climb. It ended up, but not much, as more than 11 million shares traded hands to finally close Friday at $18.75.
TXU was far from the only surprising loser last week. American Electric Power also was slammed after lowering its earnings expectations and dumping speculative trading. It had begun October trading just under $30, and following last week’s volatile trades, which on Wednesday dropped to $17.69, it ended Friday at $21.20.
Allegheny Energy Inc., which has fallen ever so slowly for several months now, saw the rug pulled out from under it this month as well. Beginning October at $12 per share, investors began dumping their shares by the thousands on Tuesday, moving the stock from a pathetic $7.62 on Monday to a paltry $3.80 on Wednesday, after it reported defaulting on some credit lines. Allegheny dropped as low as $2.95 on Wednesday before gaining a small bit of ground to close the week at $4.72.
A notable surprise — with no publicly released bad news either — was Dominion Resources Inc., which curiously took a huge loss in the market last week. The old-line utility had opened the month at a robust $52, but last week investors changed their mind. By Tuesday, Dominion’s stock price had fallen to $41.85 on heavy volume — 11.6 million shares traded. Wednesday was worse, as the price dropped to $36.49. By Friday, with two days of moderate steam, it managed to close at $39.68, still far below its heady summer readings.
Friday’s gainers included AES Corp., which has been slowly falling for weeks because of poor operating performance, especially in South America. It was up more than 24% to close at $1.44. Calpine also traded up almost 24% to close at $2.49. Likewise, Dynegy, which has been the bottom feeder for several months, gained almost 18% to end the week at 86 cents.
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