US airlines hesitate on fuel hedges despite price drop

Fear of further plunges makes airlines reluctant to hedge, say dealers

American Airlines - fuel hedging benefits in 2011
American Airlines quit hedging this year after US Airways merger

US airlines and other fuel consumers have been paying close attention to the drastic collapse in crude oil prices in recent weeks, but many are still reluctant to put on hedges out of fear the market could dip even lower, dealers say.

"The airline sector is watching this drop very carefully to see if there are any buying opportunities. But it's very hard to pick a bottom," says a New York-based oil trader with a major US bank.

Crude oil prices have plummeted in recent weeks amid concerns about a