Duke Energy, Williams and Mirant have all denied manipulating electricity prices in California, seeking to calm investor concerns that federal energy regulators might demand the companies pay billions in refunds.
Duke, the second biggest US utility company, Mirant and Williams, the second largest gas pipeline owner, said they had not used illegal practices in 2000. They were responding to a federal filing by Xcel Energy Inc. indicating the companies may have used trading tactics that California officials say Enron Corp. employed to drive prices higher.
The $600 billion energy-trading business is shrinking amid regulatory probes of sham transactions and the collapse of Enron, once the world's biggest trader. Williams today slashed its profit forecast this year and plans to cut jobs. California has accused Dynegy, Reliant Resources and several other companies of manipulating prices in late 2000 and early 2001.
“The market is assuming the worst about energy traders,” said Scott Yuschak, an analyst with Banc One Investment Advisors, which owns shares of Williams and El Paso “Investors are looking at them as guilty until proven innocent.”