Behind the scenes on Delta’s fuel hedging desk

There is a new book out last week, The Secret Club That Runs the World: Inside the Fraternity of Commodity Traders, which talks about commodities brokers and the games they play in search of profits. One section of the book focuses on Delta and their fuel hedging group, specifically the 2011-2012 era when a man named Jon Ruggles moved from the banking side into the role of VP of fuel at the carrier. His story is one of great fame and success – $420mm in profits his first full year running the show – as well as failure and subpoenas. Forget that the quarterly losses from the hedge group were growing as crude prices remained lower than Ruggles bet; the Commodity Futures Trading Commission was not at all happy with the way Ruggles was playing the markets.

The implications of the subpoena were grave. As the architect of Delta’s hedging strategy, Ruggles had been in regular possession of nonpublic information on what one of the world’s biggest energy buyers planned to do in the markets. A large enough trade in the crude market could move prices around by multiple dollars per contract; anyone who had advance notice of such a sale could theoretically make huge profits trading ahead of it. And since Ruggles was trading some of the same products at home that he traded at work, the potential for using his corporate knowledge to inform personal positions was omnipresent.

Oh, and the trades he was making at home were in his wife’s name, not his own. That’s not so good either.

The Ruggles story, as told in the book is pretty interesting. It is available online and will be in Fortune Magazine’s 16 June 2014 issue. Definitely an interesting read when looking at how the fuel hedging part of the industry works. And given that hedging is such a volatile part of the business, it is even more interesting to me.

And, yes, I get a couple pennies if you buy the book via the link.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.