Berkshire Hathaway is not buying utility PG&E, Warren Buffett says, knocking down earlier report

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Berkshire Hathaway is not buying PG&E, Warren Buffett told CNBC’s Becky Quick.

This knocks down a report earlier Wednesday that had caused shares of the troubled utility to surge. PG&E shares jumped more than 25% after Bloomberg News circulated a report from publication SparkSpread, which apparently said the Buffett-led conglomerate was in talks to buy the utility. They were still up 3.5% shortly before Wednesday’s opening bell.

Buffett, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, told CNBC that the report was “100% not true” and that he “would know” if Berkshire Hathaway was in talks to acquire the company. PG&E declined to comment for this story.

PG&E, California’s largest investor-owned utility, could face $30 billion in potential liabilities from wildfires in 2017 and 2018.

The company’s share price plunged late last year as the deadliest fire in the state’s history — thought by many to be a product of PG&E equipment — ravaged the area surrounding Paradise, California. The disaster killed 86 people and destroyed about 14,000 homes. The stock sank again in January after the company announced plans to pursue Chapter 11 bankruptcy in January.

Still, some of Wall Street’s top hedge funds — including D.E. Shaw, Baupost Group and David Tepper’s Appaloosa Management — all held stakes in the San Francisco-based utility by the end of the last year, after the wildfire. While the rationale for each hedge fund’s position in the company is likely different, theories range on why some have stuck with the embattled name.

A source familiar with the matter confirmed to CNBC earlier this year that Seth Klarman’s Baupost Group had spoken to insurance companies about buying claims against PG&E as a type of hedge. Others could be betting on a generous relief package from state lawmakers.

Earlier this month, California Gov. Gavin Newsom released several initiatives for how to confront future wildfires. The governor’s report, developed by a “strike force,” charged PG&E to promote better safety practices and emphasized the need to lessen liability for the state’s utilities.

“As long as electrical lines run through tinder-dry forests, California can mitigate but not eliminate utility-sparked fires,” the governor’s report read. “No single stakeholder created this crisis, and no single stakeholder should bear its full cost.”

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