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PG&E shares spike after suspected wildfires arsonist is arrested in Northern California


Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E) employees work to fix downed power lines burned by wildfires in this aerial photograph taken above Santa Rosa, California, Oct. 12, 2017.

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E) employees work to fix downed power lines burned by wildfires in this aerial photograph taken above Santa Rosa, California, Oct. 12, 2017.

Shares of California utility PG&E rose more than 7 percent Tuesday on word about a suspected arsonist arrested in Sonoma County.

California’s largest electric utility company has seen its stock drop nearly 18 percent since Oct. 9 amid concerns it could be found liable for the fires that have ravaged Northern California. More than 41 deaths have been blamed on the fires and dozens of people remain missing in Sonoma County alone.

As of Tuesday, the cause of the current wildfires in Northern California remained “under investigation,” according to Cal Fire.

However, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat reported Monday that a 29-year-old man was arrested in Sonoma on Sunday afternoon. It said he “was seen leaving a creek bed where a fire was burning.”

The Sonoma County Sheriff’s office confirmed to CNBC there was an arrest but said Cal Fire is conducting an investigation into the actual fires. CNBC reached out to Cal Fire and to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency for comment.

A press briefing is scheduled at 1 p.m. Pacific Time on Tuesday in Santa Rosa, and the arson arrest and update on the fire probe are likely to be covered. Overall, the wildfires have scorched more than 220,000 acres and destroyed an estimated 5,700 structures.

PG&E said in a SEC filing Friday it has “$800 million in liability insurance for potential losses that may result from these fires. If the amount of insurance is insufficient to cover the Utility’s liability or if insurance is otherwise unavailable PG&E Corporation’s and the Utility’s financial condition or results of operations could be materially affected.”

Analysts at JPMorgan, Wells Fargo and RBC Capital Markets have all reduced their price targets on PG&E shares recently.

Christopher Turnure, an analyst at JPMorgan covering the stock, said in a note Sunday: “We assign a 75% chance of PCG being found liable for the Northern California wildfires.”

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