By Tom Kleckner
Warren Buffett is stepping in where two other suitors have failed and will soon make a deal for Oncor, Texas’ largest transmission and distribution utility, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Citing sources “familiar with the matter,” the Journal reported that an announcement by Berkshire Hathaway Energy proposing to acquire Oncor was imminent. The acquisition’s terms have not been disclosed but are thought to be more than $17.5 billion and less than the $18.7 billion NextEra Energy put up last year, according to reports.
NextEra’s bid was spiked by the Public Utility Commission of Texas, which ruled in April that the proposed merger was not in the public interest. The commission subsequently rejected two requests for rehearing by NextEra and Oncor. (See NextEra-Oncor Deal Meets Third Denial.)
NextEra’s failure was preceded by that of Dallas-based Hunt Consolidated, which saw its bid fall apart last year when the PUC placed conditions on the transaction that the Hunt family was unable to meet. Hunt’s motion for rehearing also was turned down by the commission. (See Texas PUC Denies Rehearing on Oncor Sale, Ends Hunt Bid.)
Oncor’s sale is instrumental to resolving the $42 billion bankruptcy of Energy Future Holdings, Oncor’s parent company. EFH declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy in April 2014, and creditors last year reached a settlement contingent on Oncor’s sale.
A regulated utility, Oncor has maintained its profitability despite EFH’s woes. The Berkshire Hathaway acquisition, like the previous two failed bids, would require PUC approval.
Berkshire Hathaway, headed by billionaire Buffett, was among those thought to be interested in the company after the Hunt deal fell apart.
Oncor would join BHE’s NV Energy, MidAmerican Energy and PacifiCorp, which collectively serve 11.6 million electric customers. As of 2016, the company held $85 billion in assets, including almost 236,000 miles of transmission and ownership or control of more than 35 GW of generating capacity. The companies employ about 21,000.
Buffett has made several large purchases lately, including spending $32 billion for Precision Castparts Corp. last year, according to the Journal. With more than $95 billion in cash and cash equivalents, he told investors during Berkshire’s annual meeting in May, the time may come when the company has more cash than it can profitably use.