The New York Times The New York Times Business August 20, 2003

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FirstEnergy Corporation

Securities and Exchange Commission

Electric Light and Power

Blackouts (Electrical)

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FirstEnergy's Cash Position Declines Sharply


The FirstEnergy Corporation, an electric utility holding company that has been buffeted by bad news this summer, reported yesterday that its cash position had fallen sharply during the second quarter. The company also warned that its loss of a pollution case in federal court could cost it a lot of money but did not estimate an amount.

FirstEnergy, which has said that one of its power plants and four of its transmission lines in Ohio shut down before the widespread power failure on Thursday, said in a regulatory filing that even after those developments it had seen no need to isolate its system from the rest of the electric grid in the Midwest. It said that other transmission lines outside its system also failed and that more study would be needed to determine the cause of the blackout.


Suspicions that FirstEnergy might have caused the blackout led to a sell-off of its stock on Monday, when shares fell 9 percent. But the price recovered some of that loss yesterday, rising 21 cents, to $27.96.

The company filed its second-quarter financial statement with the Securities and Exchange Commission minutes before the 5:30 p.m. deadline and said that meant that it would be able to issue securities without having to go through a long registration procedure. The company has said it wants to sell stock soon to help reduce its debt.

FirstEnergy has been engulfed by numerous problems this summer, even before the blackout. In early August, a federal judge ruled that the company had violated the Clean Air Act at a coal-power plant, setting the stage for a second trial on damages. In the S.E.C. filing, FirstEnergy said that "the potential penalties that may be imposed, as well as the capital expenditures necessary to comply with the substantial remedial measures that may be required, may have a material adverse impact on the company's financial condition and results of operations."

The financial statements showed that FirstEnergy had $64.2 million in cash on hand on June 30, down from $290 million on March 31 and $359.1 million the previous June.

The company reported positive operating cash flow of $21.7 million in the second quarter, but that was dwarfed by its needs for capital spending and for debt repayment. It had to step up its short-term borrowing in the quarter even to maintain that amount of cash.

Just why the company took in so little cash on an operating basis was not clear. When it reported a net loss early this month, it stressed that it came from noncash items.

In the financial statement, the item shown as contributing the most to the decline in operating cash flow — which had been $262.1 million in the same quarter a year ago — was labeled "other" and was not further defined. A call to a company spokeswoman seeking information on the cash position was not returned.

FirstEnergy has been under pressure from bond rating agencies to reduce its debt substantially. But it has found that difficult to do in part because its Davis-Besse nuclear plant in Ohio remains closed after the discovery that acid had eaten through much of the steel in a reactor. The company said it thought the plant would be ready to reopen in the fall but did not know when the Nuclear Regulatory Commission would permit this to happen.

The financial statements filed yesterday included revised reports for the first quarter and for 2002. The restatements came about because auditors from PricewaterhouseCoopers said accounting needed to be changed for the expected recovery on some Ohio assets and certain other items. They reduced earnings for previous periods a little more than FirstEnergy had estimated in early August. For example, profit in 2002 came to $552.8 million, or $1.88 a share. It earlier estimated that figure at $1.91 a share. The original earnings statement showed profit of $629.3 million, or $2.14 a share.

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