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Hi guys. I know, I ran off for a week or so, leaving investors to their own devices. Well, I'm back, having been in the great state of Alaska last week. My thanks to the folks at the

Alaskan Business Travel Association

. I had a great time speaking to the organization, and loved Anchorage. Yes, only I would accept a speaking engagement in Alaska in February. Must be my inherent sense of adventure.

Speaking of adventures, I see that most investors have continued to sell off those airline shares in my absence. The wild ride down has gone far enough for them, eh?

Needless to say, I think our

forecast from January regarding the cancellation of the airline profit-hunting season was on the mark.

How Low Can Airline Stocks Go?

Remember last month when shares of

Northwest Airlines


were at 24 and the feeling of many investors was, "Oh, the price can't go much lower."

So much for the fine art of picking bottoms.

A quick, and rather painful, look at the airline sector this morning shows that all but one of the major airlines has reached a new 52-week low in the last two weeks of trading. Northwest Airlines was the latest, hitting below 17 as of Tuesday's close.

Southwest Airlines



meanwhile, is the lone major airline that has not yet sunk to new depths in 2000. With so little to celebrate, that alone might call for a bottle of bubbly.

Obviously, the rise in fuel prices is the main reason airline stocks have been grounded. But while we heard many airline executives talk about this situation as being something that was going to go away in the second quarter of the year at the recent

SunTrust Equitable Airline Conference

, our personal opinion is that the problem of high fuel prices isn't going anywhere in the second quarter.

The price for a barrel of crude oil closed once again over $30 a barrel on Tuesday.

But there is an interesting side effect of this stock-deflating, oil-related angst.

Low stock prices create low market capitalizations.

For a real shock, take a look at the market caps of the major airlines, based on Tuesday's closing stock prices.

For example,



, parent of

American Airlines

, has a market cap of $7.8 billion.

That figure includes



, a travel service and information technology company that is sitting on a market cap of $5.5 billion. Sabre will be spun off from AMR in March, which will reduce AMR's valuation to about $2.3 billion, using current stock prices.

Speaking of AMR, look closely at Ray Neidl's upgrade of the stock on Monday. His move from buy to strong buy had nothing to do with the airline. Neidl, an analyst at

ING Barings

, basically suggested buying AMR stock now as a cheap way to acquire shares of Sabre -- which he sees as a good growth-company play. ING Barings has not done any banking for AMR in the past three years.

After looking at those numbers, we have the Wing Tips MA&T (merger, acquisition and takeover) antennae turned up on the high setting.

Could we see an outside entity come into the sector and try to grab an airline? Could we see renewed activity in the big-fish-eats-little-fish category?

Interesting tidbits are floating out there concerning more than one major airline, and with these



sale prices attached to the wings, it is only a matter of time until somebody makes a move.

Holly Hegeman, based in Barrington, R.I., pilots the Wing Tips column for At time of publication, Hegeman held no positions in any securities mentioned in this column, although holdings can change at any time. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks. You can usually find Hegeman, publisher of PlaneBusiness Banter, buzzing around her airline industry Web site at While she cannot provide investment advice or recommendations, she welcomes your feedback at