• on Oct 31st, 2011 in Pricing & Rates | 12 comments
    When mailing a letter that weighs about one ounce, the U.S. Postal Service’s 44 cents is one of lowest First Class postage rates. Whether you are mailing a letter locally or sending a greeting card across country, it still only costs 44 cents now, but will increase to 45 cents in January. The graph below compares the U.S. Postal Service’s postage rate with other countries. As you can see, Norway charges the highest rate, which is nearly four times the cost U.S. rate.

     

    Source: 2011 Office of Inspector General analysis of Universal Postal Union data

    Some might feel it is reasonable for the Postal Service to increase rates and charge a fee comparable to those in other countries. On the contrary, others might say the Postal Service’s rate must remain at an affordable level, especially for people with lower incomes. They might also say raising the rate to a level found elsewhere would drive customers away even faster. When you think about prices paid for other goods and services, just how far does 44, 50, or even 75 cents go? By comparison, a small cup of coffee at McDonalds costs a dollar, a gallon of gasoline is over $3, and a gallon of milk is about $4. Share your thoughts below. This topic is hosted by the OIG’s Financial Reporting Directorate.
  • on Jun 20th, 2011 in Pricing & Rates | 7 comments
    Offering volume incentives is a common business practice in the U.S. and around the world. Although the U.S. Postal Service offers incentives to businesses that presort their mail, the agency does not offer incentives based strictly on the volume of packages shipped. One reason might be that offering volume incentives would lower the profit margin on each package shipped; yet, the potential volume increase of items shipped would make up for the smaller profit margins. E-retail is a multibillion-dollar industry through which millions of transactions are made via clearinghouses, such as Amazon.com and eBay. The e-retail industry continues to grow and includes on-line sales in virtually every industry. In the U.S., online retail spending for the Q4 2010 reached a record $43.4 billion, up from $39.0 billion in Q4 2009. This accelerated growth rate represented the fifth consecutive quarter of positive year-over-year growth and second quarter of double-digit growth rates in the past year. This trend will likely continue as more online people turn to the internet for their shopping needs, and younger, digital-savvy generations increasingly flex their spending power. Companies like eBay, Amazon.com, and traditional retailers with strong web operations should continue to benefit from this growth. Increases in e-shopping means an increase in the quantity of goods shipped is also increasing. Most vendors have their preferences, which are frequently based on cost. Should the Postal Service take advantage of the increased amount of shipping generated by e-retailers by offering incentives? Yes or no, and why? This blog is hosted by the Office of Audit’s Financial Reporting Directorate.
  • on Jul 7th, 2010 in Pricing & Rates | 13 comments
    The Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006 (PAEA) ushered in a new regulatory structure for the U.S. Postal Service. One key element was a price cap on market dominant products. (Most of the Postal Service's products are market dominant.) This means that price increases for market dominant products are capped by the rate of inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI). PAEA, however, does allow the Postal Service to increase its prices beyond the CPI cap under “extraordinary and exceptional circumstances.” The Postal Service makes the exception by filing an ‘exigent’ rate case to the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC). Before the Postal Service can increase prices, the PRC must agree with the ‘exigent’ request and find it to be reasonable, equitable, and necessary.

    This week the Postal Service proposed an exigent rate increase, an average of 5.6 percent across all classes of mail, effective January 2011. The direct mail industry has challenged the increase, threatening legal action and warning that the Postal Service will suffer large drops in mail volume. Much of the industry’s objection has centered on whether the Postal Service’s current circumstances are really “extraordinary and exceptional.” The Postal Service has based its case on the significant decline in mail volume and revenue, caused by the economic recession. In addition, because inflation has been low, the Postal Service has a small margin under the cap to raise prices. Some might argue that a price cap based on consumer items such as food, apparel, and electronics might not be the best metric for the Postal Service, because its costs are based on fuel, salaries, and health benefits. What do you think of the exigent price increase? Is it important to the continued viability of the Postal Service or should other revenue and cost reduction opportunities be explored first? This topic is hosted by the OIG’s Risk Analysis Research Center (RARC).

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