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Salomon Downgrades Four Energy Traders

Salomon Smith Barney downgraded its investment ratings on four energy merchants: Williams Cos. (WMB), Mirant (MIR), El Paso (EP), and Aquila (ILA).

Analyst Ray Niles says these key issues will likely negatively impact the EPS potential and growth outlooks of energy merchant businesses: customer concerns, given the heightened challenges the companies face; continued ratings agency scrutiny of the entire industry; a worsening spark spread outlook; and mounting legal and regulatory risks. Niles expects upside for the group to be limited until these issues are resolved, and sees the most credit-sensitive stocks trading at or near asset value. He downgraded Williams and Aquila to underperform from outperform; El Paso to buy from neutral; and Mirant to underperform from neutral.

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