Clouds are gathering again over the stormy energy sector. After weeks of sunshine, the sector fell victim Tuesday to the familiar rumble of problems from old and new voices alike. Calpine ( CPN) told investors that its first-quarter earnings report will be delayed, and for now, it warned them to brace for a quarterly loss. Meanwhile, two thriving energy companies -- Kinder Morgan ( KMI) and master limited partnership Kinder Morgan Energy Partners ( KMP) -- revealed that they have become the latest targets of a Securities and Exchange Commission probe. Calpine blamed its 12-cent quarterly loss on unusual charges, stemming primarily from equipment repairs and unfavorable foreign currency rates. The company indicated that it should otherwise meet Wall Street expectations for first-quarter operating profits of 4 cents a share and full-year earnings of 41 cents a share. But the delay in financial results -- and the potential jeopardy to crucial bank deals -- took a toll on investors who were already nervously waiting for Calpine to restate three years' worth of newly audited financial statements. Calpine shares, which had rallied past $5 in recent days, tumbled 10% to $4.95 in heavy trading Tuesday.
Kinder Morgan and its MLP took noticeably smaller hits, despite clear concern that the informal SEC probe may prove serious. The two companies, founded by former Enron executive Richard Kinder, are being examined for their handling of a pipeline acquisition more than a year ago. Kinder told investors that he received notice late Friday that the SEC wants additional information about $155 million worth of goodwill that was booked by the MLP after its $886 million acquisition of Tejas Gas from a joint venture involving Royal Dutch/Shell. Kinder said he believes the company acted properly by following the guidance provided by an independent appraiser and blessed by its own internal auditors. But he also stressed that, even if the SEC orders a change -- converting the goodwill to assets that must be depreciated -- MLP earnings would drop by less than 2 cents a share annually while cash payouts to unit holders wouldn't be hurt at all. Kinder Morgan, which takes a big cut of the MLP's free cash flow, would be affected even less, he added.