Swiss bank and financial services group
has won the auction for the energy-trading division of
, the bankrupt energy, natural gas and bandwidth merchant, according to televised and published reports.
Reports started surfacing around midday that UBS had prevailed in its bid to acquire the main trading operations of Enron. Financial terms of the deal weren't immediately available. A bankruptcy court judge still has to approve the sale.
Enron was valued at more than $70 billion early last year as investors wagered that the company would dominate an increasingly lucrative deregulated energy market. The energy trading operations, including the once widely used
, were the heart of what once appeared to be a profit-making machine. Enron's revenue reached $100 billion in 2001, placing the once staid energy company in the ranks of America's greatest industrial companies.
But Enron shares dropped sharply through the summer as Wall Street recoiled at the sight of falling oil and gas prices and the heavy debt loads big energy companies were taking on to finance their growth.
Then last fall, the bottom fell out. The company disclosed in separate mid-October announcements that it would have to reduce shareholder equity and restate earnings downward by more than half a billion dollars. These episodes heightened investors' fears that the always secretive Enron was hiding just how precarious its financial state truly was.
The stock plunged as the company waffled, initially claiming all its moves were legitimate and then replacing its chief financial officer, who was responsible for overseeing its increasingly questionable balance sheet. At the end of October, the SEC said it was formally investigating the company.
By November, once-arrogant Enron was desperately attempting to salvage its reputation; it agreed to be acquired by smaller rival
. But that deal unraveled in recrimination as Enron's liquidity problems proved overwhelming, forcing it to file for bankruptcy protection -- practically wiping out shareholders and employees whose savings were invested in the stock.
The scandal has only intensified since then, with congressional hearings and government investigations. Yesterday auditor Andersen, whose ties with Enron have long been criticized by shareholder advocates, disclosed that in a highly unusual development its workers had shredded scores of documents related to the Enron case.
Enron stock was halted Friday at 67 cents. The fact that the stock has continued to trade at all since the company sought bankruptcy protection has raised hackles with
columnist James J. Cramer. He notes that Enron shareholders are all but certain to recover nothing in bankruptcy proceedings and that as a result, the stock should be deemed worthless, as is typical in a Chapter 11 case.