An Airline Shrugs at Oil Prices - New York Times:
"Southwest owns long-term contracts to buy most of its fuel through 2009 for what it would cost if oil were $51 a barrel. The value of those hedges soared as oil raced above $90 a barrel, and they are now worth more than $2 billion. Those gains will mostly be realized over the next two years. Other major airlines passed on buying all but the shortest-term insurance against high fuel prices..."That other airlines were not hedging (or at least not hedging long-term) has been one of my pet peeves going back as far as the newsletter days. Sure it costs money to hedge, and sure is not without some risks (see for instance this story on what happened when oil prices fell), but hedging makes too much sense not to do.
How does hedging work? Why? The best explanation I have ever seen comes from an old Corporate text book I once used by Rao (do not think it is still in print and I can not find my copy). In it he described how hedging allows management to worry about what they do well and can control (service, pricing, safety etc) and not what they can not control (oil prices in this case).
An other view (the two views are definitely NOT mutually exclusive) is that hedgers have both better access to capital markets and less need to go when the asset (oil) moves in teh 'wrong' direction. My favorite paper in this area has long been Carter, Rogers, and Simkins.
Of course that said, all of the good I can say about hedging goes out the window if firms use the same derivatives to speculate.
Thanks to Felix over at Conde Nast's Porfolio.com for the heads-up on this one.