California wildfire victims sue utility PG&E alleging negligence

(Reuters) – Victims of California’s deadliest wildfire have filed a lawsuit against PGE Corp (PCG.N) alleging negligence and health and safety code violations by the utility company in the blaze that has killed at least 48 people.

The lawsuit seeking damages against California’s largest public utility was filed on Tuesday in San Francisco County Superior Court by three law firms, which refer to themselves as Northern California Fire Lawyers.

“It’s important to remember that the cause (of the “Camp Fire”) has yet to be determined,” PGE said in a statement. “Right now, our primary focus is on the communities, supporting first responders and getting our crews positioned and ready to respond when we get access, so that we can safely restore gas and electricity to our customers.”

The Camp Fire, which began last Thursday, has all but wiped out the Sierra foothills town of Paradise in Butte County, about 175 miles (280 km) north of San Francisco, that was overrun by flames and largely incinerated.

But both PGE and Southern California Edison (EIX.N) have reported to regulators that they experienced problems with transmission lines or substations in areas around the time the blazes were first reported.

The lawsuit alleged that PGE failed to properly maintain, repair and replace its equipment and that “its inexcusable behavior contributed to the cause of the ‘Camp Fire.’”

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The lawsuit alleges that prior to the Camp Fire, PGE began warning customers it might turn off power because of the high risk of wildfires.

“Despite its own recognition of these impending hazardous conditions, on the day of the Camp Fire’s ignition, PGE ultimately made the decision not to proceed with its plans for a power shutoff,” the lawsuit stated.

Last month PGE cut off electric power to about 60,000 customers to prevent wildfires as high winds threatened to topple trees and power lines.

Searchers looking for the remains of victims in the charred ruins of Paradise were set to expand their operation on Wednesday as firefighters stepped up efforts to contain the blaze.

The origins of the “Camp Fire” and the “Woolsey Fire” that has ravaged parts of southern California are still under investigation.

Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey told KRCR television on Wednesday that attributing the fire to PGE at this point was “speculative.”

But he added that officials from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) arrived in the area immediately after the fire began to ensure that any equipment or other evidence would be preserved for an investigation.

PGE stock slid 21.8 percent to close at $25.59.

PGE’s bonds have weakened broadly after the California electric utility said late Tuesday it had borrowed more than $3 billion from its credit facilities. It also warned it might face liabilities stemming from the Camp Fire that could exceed its insurance coverage.

Reporting by Nick Carey in Detroit; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe

Asia edges up as oil slide slows; pound, euro firm on Brexit optimism

TOKYO (Reuters) – Asian stocks edged up on Thursday as a steep slide in crude oil prices which had chilled investor sentiment slowed, while the pound and euro were supported after British Prime Minister Theresa May gained cabinet support for a Brexit deal.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS was up 0.15 percent. The index had declined 0.4 percent the previous day as plunging oil prices heightened anxiety about the outlook for broad demand and global growth.

Australian stocks rose 0.15 percent while Japan’s Nikkei .N225 shed 0.5 percent.

All the same, stock market gains in Asia were limited after Wall Street extended their recent decline.

The SP 500 .SPX fell for a fifth straight day overnight as financial stocks were hit by fears that banking industry regulations would tighten once the Democratic Party takes control of the House of Representatives. [.N]

U.S. equities were also pressured by lingering concerns that earnings growth might be peaking, intensifying trade tensions and a slowing global economy – factors that had triggered a rout in riskier assets in October.

“If U.S. stocks are to bounce back, economic indicators will be key,” said Junichi Ishikawa, senior forex strategist at IG Securities in Tokyo.

“Immediate focus will be on today’s U.S. retail sales data, which will provide a view of how private consumption -the main component of economic growth- is faring.”

U.S. retail sales for October will be released at 1330 GMT.

In currencies, the pound and euro kept gains made after British Prime Minister May’s cabinet gave backing on her Brexit deal. May now has to gain the support of parliament, though it is unclear whether she has enough votes to clinch approval.

The pound was a shade higher at $1.12987 GBP=D4 after peaking at $1.3072 on Wednesday, when it tacked on 0.1 percent.

The euro was little changed at $1.1311 EUR= having advanced 0.2 percent overnight.

The single currency’s upside was limited by uncertainty on how European Union officials would react to Italy’s latest fiscal proposal after they rejected a version of it last month for violation of certain EU rules.

Italy on Wednesday re-submitted its draft 2019 budget to the European Commission with the same growth and deficit assumptions as a draft rejected for breaking European Union rules, stepping up its showdown with the EU over its fiscal policy.

The dollar index against a basket of six major currencies was 0.1 percent lower at 97.213 .DXY, nudged down by the firmer pound and euro.

U.S. crude CLc1 was a shade lower at $55.92 per barrel after gaining 1 percent overnight, snapping a 12 day losing run on growing prospects that the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allied producers would cut output. [O/R]

With global demand concerns also causing the steepest one-day loss for oil in more than three years on Tuesday, the market reversed course after Reuters reported that OPEC and its partners were discussing a proposal to cut output by up to 1.4 million barrels per day (bpd), more than officials had mentioned previously.

Editing by Shri Navaratnam

Proxy advisory firm ISS recommends for all Third Point nominees at Campbell

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Shareholder advisory firm Institutional Shareholder Services on Wednesday recommended that Campbell Soup Co investors elect all five of hedge fund Third Point’s board nominees, giving a boost to the activist firm, which is fighting a high profile proxy battle with the company.

“The dissident slate seems well qualified to contribute to the company’s turnaround by providing relevant industry expertise, fresh ideas, and a greater sense of urgency,” ISS wrote in its report, adding “As such, votes FOR all dissident nominees are warranted.”

Days ago, investor Daniel Loeb, who runs Third Point, backed off his call to replace the entire 12-person Campbell board. Investors are expected to vote on directors at the Nov. 29 annual meeting. ISS is generally seen as being reluctant to recommend ousting all board members.

In its report, ISS backed former Blue Buffalo CEO Kurt Schmidt and former Hostess Brands Inc CEO William Toler as well as comScore Inc president Sarah Hofstetter and former Uber Technologies executive Bozoma Saint John. It also recommended support for Third Point partner Munib Islam.

Third Point has said that its nominees can provide operational, marketing and branding as well as financial expertise to help turn around the company’s lagging stock performance.

ISS said Campbell’s underperforming total stock return and weak fundamentals are linked to its acquisition strategy and poor execution on mergers as well as a lack of focus on its core business. “In light of these factors, the dissident has presented a compelling case that change at the board level is warranted,” the report said.

Third Point owns roughly 7 percent of Campbell’s stock and it has allied with George Strawbridge, a descendant of John Dorrance who invented condensed soup and ran the company about a century ago. Three Dorrance heirs currently serve on the Campbell board and they plus another family member control roughly 40 percent of the shares, making Loeb’s proxy contest all the more difficult.

Reporting by Svea Herbst-Bayliss; editing by Grant McCool

How to Improve Yourself With Little to No Effort

Over the past month, every time I walk somewhere, I open my language learning app and start learning Greek. As I walk, I listen to new words, repeat them. There are hundreds of free and paid applications available to expedite your learning. Two I like include Babble and Duolingo. 

Sure, I may look crazy talking to myself, but who cares. In six months, I’ll have mastered the language while a passerby will have long forgotten about me. Learning a new language can open up new business opportunities abroad and can help you better connect with clients, employees and partners from different backgrounds. 

Why is Walmart Catching Up To Amazon?

As Walmart’s online sales are exploding (some analysts are expecting a 40 percent growth this quarter which would be on top of a 40 percent growth from the quarter  before) Amazon is realizing that – like Walmart – it can’t just be a one channel company. Sure, selling on the internet is important. But so is selling in a physical store. That’s why Amazon is opening physical stores around the country. Unfortunately for them, they’re a little late to the game. Walmart already has the presence. Now, with some marketing, money and savvy, who knows? Maybe we’re going to to buy our next product instead of Amazon. Or just to a local store. Or having my wish granted on the same day. It’s happening more and more and Walmart is doing it better and better.

4 Obstacles to Success for Women Entrepreneurs, and How to Counter Them

Here are four of those obstacles that have threatened my progress the most, and how I counteract them. My guideposts for this ongoing journey are inspired by those outlined by Tara Mohr in her book, Playing Big: Practical Wisdom for Women Who Want to Speak Up, Create, and Lead, which is one of two books I give away and recommend most to other entrepreneurs and other women.

Federal utility’s CEO announces plans for retirement

The chief executive officer of the nation’s largest public utility has announced his plans to retire.

Bill Johnson of the Tennessee Valley Authority revealed his plans during a board meeting Wednesday in Tupelo, Mississippi.

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Johnson joined the federal utility in 2013. He turns 65 in January.

TVA says it could take months while the board searches through internal or external candidates. Johnson will remain CEO while his successor is picked and trained to lead.

Johnson is the nation’s highest-paid federal employee. He was paid nearly $5 million in fiscal 2016, with a reported base salary of roughly $995,000. The board has said Johnson’s pay is still low compared to salaries of utility companies not in public service.

TVA powers nearly 10 million people in parts of seven southeastern states.

A Look Inside a Prominent Low Vol ETF

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Among smart beta exchange traded funds dedicated to individual investment factors, low volatility products have been popular with conservative investors based on the premise that emphasizing a low volatility strategy can help reduce a portfolio’s downside potential. The trade-off with ETFs such as the PowerShares SP 500 Low Volatility Portfolio (NYSEArca: SPLV) is that these […]

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