It wasn't long ago that
wanted to be
. Now, to investors' great dismay, it looks more and more likely that that forgotten wish might come true.
Crushed by its once-highflying merchant energy business, Dynegy Wednesday posted a staggering third-quarter loss of $1.8 billion, or $4.92 a share. The Houston-based company, once a leading energy trader, attributed $1.75 billion of the losses to special charges, most of them related to its nearly abandoned trading operation.
Dynegy's massive well of red ink rivals the $2.2 billion in write-offs that neighboring Enron posted just before it tumbled into bankruptcy last year. Soon after Enron's liquidity crisis began in earnest last fall, it and Dynegy engaged in a delicate
pas de deux
regarding a possible takeover by Dynegy, then seen as the Avis of energy trading to Enron's Hertz. But those talks came to nothing as Enron crumbled under the weight of massive debts and trickling cash flows.
Plenty of investors now see eerie parallels to the collapse of Enron in Dynegy's situation. These people note the company's massive losses and its failure to provide investors with answers to looming financial questions. But despite the heavy bleeding, Dynegy continues to insist that it's on the road to recovery.
In his first public statements as Dynegy's new CEO, Bruce Williamson attempted to soothe investors who have been rattled for months by liquidity and bankruptcy fears.
"These charges did not and will not affect the company's liquidity position, which remains at a level that is sufficient to operate our business and meet our customer commitments," Williamson said in a prepared release.
But some investors took little heart in Williamson's reassurance, questioning his apparent reluctance to address analysts and investors directly. In a surprising move, Dynegy scheduled no conference call to follow its earnings release. The stock, down 97% during the last year, dropped 9 cents, to 82 cents.
Peter Cohan, a Massachusetts author and investment strategist, said Dynegy "sure has a lot of things not to want to talk about." He pointed with specific concern to the company's failure to supply a current balance sheet or cash flow statement, its withdrawal of earnings and cash flow guidance and the sliding profitability of the asset-based businesses that are expected to sustain the company in the future.
Cohan, who has no position in the stock, criticized Williamson for dodging possible bullets from anxious investors and analysts.
"I am not sure that stonewalling analysts is a good way for a new CEO to build credibility," Cohan said. "Is Dynegy's new CEO seeking to avoid answering questions about its prospects for a bankruptcy filing? I'm afraid the answer ... is 'yes.'"
Christopher Ellinghaus, an analyst at Williams Capital, also questioned Dynegy's future.
"The demise of Dynegy as a premier energy marketer and trader remains nearly as remarkable as the demise of Enron itself," Ellinghaus wrote Wednesday. "Clearly, the realization of the end of its trading business means Dynegy will never return to its former luster. But it is completely unclear what, if anything, it will be in the future."