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The practice of a company creating a legal entity separate from itself in order to protect certain assets. For example, ring fencing may protect assets from taxation, regulation, or allow the company to hide it from creditors. Ring fencing often makes use of offshore accounting. It is usually legal, but there are limitations, such as maximum amounts that may be protected.
The legal walling off of certain assets or liabilities within a corporation. For example, a firm may form a new subsidiary to protect, or ring-fence, specific assets from creditors.
Case Study California's electricity deregulation of the late 1990s resulted in the state's electric utilities hitting the financial wall by 2001. Unable by law to raise the rates it charged its customers, the utilities lost billions of dollars buying electricity at rising wholesale prices during an energy shortage in the western United States. To protect one part of the company, publicly traded PG&E, parent of Pacific Gas & Electric, in January 2001 ring-fenced its National Energy Group, which was then able to obtain its own credit rating and borrow money when the remainder of the company was shut out of the financial markets. In April 2001 Pacific Gas & Electric filed for bankruptcy while protected National Energy Group continued to borrow funds for trading power and purchasing turbines. The ring-fencing protected National Energy Group from Pacific Gas & Electric's creditors, which, in turn, allowed the company access to the capital markets. Critics claimed the financial maneuver was an abuse that unfairly shielded assets from creditors.