Energy Traders Slump On Feeral Regulator Threat

Shares of Williams, Avista Corp. and El Paso Electric have plunged after the federal regulators threatened to revoke their authority to set prices on sales of electricity and natural gas.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said that the three energy companies and an Enron Corp. utility in Oregon failed to cooperate in a probe of allegations that traders manipulated prices during California's energy crisis in 2000 and 2001.

Forcing the companies to seek regulatory approval for price changes would shut down trading businesses that make dozens of transactions a day. Merrill Lynch & Co. estimates Avista's profit would fall by half. Williams got 12 percent of its revenue from trading in the first quarter.

“People have thrown in the towel on Williams, whether there is asset value there or not,” said Matt Wright, who helps manage about $225 million at First Investors Management Company. He continued to say that “There would be a comfort in reading the headlines and knowing you don't own it anymore.”

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