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Merrill Downgrades FirstEnergy to 'Neutral'

Merrill downgraded FirstEnergy (FE) to neutral from buy.

Analyst Steven Fleishman tells salesforce FirstEnergy's system appears to have been the instigator of last week's blackout. He says it's not clear that FirstEnergy did anything wrong, but it did state that four of its transmission lines went down in hour before the blackout. He says the news is particularly bad for FirstEnergy given its reliability issues in New Jersey, and an extended outage at the Davis-Besse nuclear plant.

He believes the blackout shows FirstEnergy's operations need significant improvement on a broad scale. Fleishman says while the cost of blackout to FirstEnergy is unclear, it raises further risk to his $3.00 2004 earnings per share estimate. He sees $2.15 2003 earnings per share.

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