Shares of embattled Enron Corp. slid 13% Tuesday, closing down at $9.67.
“This is a case where no news is bad news,” said John Olson, analyst with Sanders Morris Mundy in Houston. “Their explanation is battening down and getting battalions of lawyers.”
Most analysts couldn’t point to a particular reason for Tuesday’s downward movement, but some suggested there is growing uneasiness about liquidity at the company. Fitch Inc. downgraded the company’s credit ratings Monday to BBB-, a notch above junk bond status and left the company on ratings watch with negative implications.
The ratings agency suggested the Houston energy firm line up more sources of credit but didn’t say it had to be done immediately. “We won’t get them off that list until management makes some definitive action to improve investor confidence. But we are not aware of any liquidity crisis yet,” said Ralph Pellecchia, analyst with Fitch.
“Everybody is watching Enron events,” said Jon Cartwright, fixed income analyst with Raymond James & Associates. “They are certainly worried about credit even though there is no evidence yet there is a problem.”
The company’s shares traded as high as $84 within the last year. But investors began selling off one of the darlings of Wall Street after the company reported a third quarter loss and billion dollar write-downs on assets and equity caused by complicated off balance sheet investments and commitments that went sour. Analyst complain the company hasn’t satisfactorily explained the off balance sheet financial trusts and partnerships that involved some company executives. The US Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating the transactions. Enron has said it is cooperating and maintained the company has done nothing wrong.
“Nobody wants to say they are in a liquidity squeeze,” said Olson. “But they are looking for more money right now.”
Cartwright said Enron bonds may be cheap, but the prices don’t hurt the company’s ability to repay them. He cited the company’s retail energy services group and trading group, which accounts for about 25% of the market, as strong points.
If Enron should develop liquidity problems, it could affect other energy companies because of its dominant market position. Other companies could be exposed Enron’s problems through their trading desks. Many big trading companies have said they haven’t noticed any changes in the market.