The state's consumer advocate remains critical of Puget Energy's planned $7.8 billion acquisition by Macquarie, saying in a final brief to the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission that the deal relies too heavily on borrowed money.
The financial crisis made it into the debate about Puget Energy’s proposed takeover by a group of international investors, as the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission gears up to issue its verdict on the deal.
The state consumer advocate on Wednesday asked commissioners to reject the deal, for which the would be-buyers are borrowing $1.2 billion and assuming $2.6 billion in existing Puget Energy debt, saying it increases the utility’s exposure to global credit markets that “face their worst crisis in decades.”
In a filing with the WUTC, the Attorney General’s Public Counsel, who formally represents consumers, pointed out that the aggressive infrastructure acquisitions strategy followed by Australian investment bank Macquarie — Puget Energy’s lead buyer — requires cheap debt to be profitable, but the current crisis has tightened the availability of credit and taken a toll on the shares of Macquarie and its imitators.
“Why would we agree to a deal that’s built on a foundation of debt? Most of the crisis we see in financial markets is related to excessive debt,” said Public Counsel section head Simon ffitch.
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His filing said the buyers should commit $500 million more of their own funds to the deal. In a move that appeased some opponents, Puget’s buyers earlier agreed to add $200 million of their own capital to the purchase.
Puget Energy’s management and the buyers said in a brief also filed Wednesday that in the current climate, Puget Sound Energy will be safer in the hands of Macquarie and its partners than trying to raise money by itself in the volatile stock market.
The WUTC staff, which initially opposed the $7.8 billion deal, said in its filing that Washington ratepayers are protected from additional risks by so-called “ring-fencing” agreements that. among other things, limit the dividends Puget can pay its new owners if it runs into financial trouble.
The filings were the last opportunity for participants in the regulatory process overseeing the deal to state their case before the Commissioners, who have the last word on the transaction.
After some initial reluctance and negotiation, most participants came to endorse the purchase, but Public Counsel still vehemently opposes it.
The Commissioners will issue a final order sometime in the coming weeks, said UTC spokeswoman Marilyn Meehan. Puget Energy shareholders, who stand to receive $30 a share if the deal goes through, have already given their blessing, as have federal regulators.
Puget Sound Energy spokeswoman Martha Monfried said a decision is expected in the fourth quarter.
Ángel González: 206-515-5644 or firstname.lastname@example.org