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Analysts Warn of Further Losses for Hawaiian Electric After Two-Thirds of Its Value is Wiped Out by Maui Wildfires

Hawaiian Electric stocks have dropped by more than two-thirds since the Maui wildfires last week that killed at least 114 people and destroyed the historic town of Lahaina.

Shares jumped about 14% on Friday after Hawaiian Electric filed a report with the SEC saying the utility is seeking advice from experts and the company “intends to be here [Hawaii] for the long term, through the rebuilding effort and beyond.”

But analysts don’t think the jump in stock price will last.

“There is a great deal of legal uncertainty at this point,” Wells Fargo analyst Jonathan Reeder told CBS News. “The prospects of Hawaiian Electric avoiding liability appear highly unlikely, in our opinion, based on the extent of the devastation, Hawaii’s liability standard and the way similar wildfire events have played out in other Western U.S. states,” Reeder said.

On Thursday, Wells Fargo analysts issued a report saying that the state’s primary power company is essentially worth zero dollars – pointing to the increasing death toll, property damage, pain and suffering in Maui.

Hawaiian Electric set a stock price of $8 down from about $17.68 the previous week, and analysts wrote that “economic losses are likely well into the billions of dollars, far exceeding the utility’s pre-wildfire equity value.”

While the cause of the fires has not yet been determined, investigators are looking into whether downed power lines and decisions by Hawaiian Electric played a role, and claims that the utility did not implement precautionary safety measures to reduce wildfire risks have surfaced. A spokesperson for Maui Electric told CBS News in a statement that some steps were taken to mitigate the possibility of fires sparking before hurricane winds arrived.

The investigation could take months or even years to conclude, Wells Fargo analysts wrote in a report dated Aug. 16, and the extent of HE’s insurance coverage likely pales in comparison to potential liabilities.

California utility company PG&E filed for bankruptcy in 2019 after it paid out about $25.5 billion for its role in wildfires in 2017 and 2018 caused by downed power lines. PG&E paid about $13.5 billion to wildfire victims following lawsuits and claims the utility’s equipment sparked what is now the most destructive wildfire in California history.

Emily Mae Czachor and the Associated Press contributed reporting

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