What happened

Shares of California utility PG&E Corporation (PCG 0.81%) rose 26% in April according to data provided by S&P Global Market Intelligence. That kind of volatility has been par for the course in 2019, however, following the company's early-year announcement that it would need to seek bankruptcy court protection.    

So what

Of course the problems at PG&E go much further back than early January, which was merely the culmination of a series of unfortunate events. Although the full story is far more complicated, the summation is pretty short: PG&E appears to be at least partly responsible for a series of devastating wildfires that ravaged California in recent years. Those fires not only destroyed billions of dollars' worth of property but also took many lives. 

A man working on an overhead power line.

Image source: Getty Images.

Although California has been supportive of the utility's efforts to remain a going concern, the dollar figures involved in damages, potential fines, and future lawsuits was too large, and so PG&E looked to protect itself. Since that point, however, PG&E's stock has continued to trade and continued to move steadily higher. As of early May the shares are down "only" around 10% for the year, having recovered most of the roughly 70% decline directly following the bankruptcy announcement. That said, the shares are still 50% below where they were toward the end of 2018, before bankruptcy concerns started to pop up.

The recent advance, meanwhile, has been driven by news that PG&E is working to emerge from bankruptcy. In April that work notably included key leadership appointments and updates to the company's spending and funding plans -- specifically for safety.   

Now what

PG&E is clearly a special situations stock as it works through a very difficult period. This is not an appropriate investment for most investors. Notably, news will likely continue to drive the shares higher, and potentially lower, until the utility is finally back on its feet. If you are tempted to jump aboard here, make sure you follow PG&E's recovery process very closely. But go in understanding that bankruptcy is a complicated and difficult process that often doesn't end well for shareholders.