• on Mar 10th, 2014 in Finances: Cost & Revenue | 4 comments

    Benjamins, dough, cabbage, coin, greenbacks. Most of us could rattle off a dozen or more slang words that mean money. But we might be unsure what certain financial terms -- operating income, liquidity -- mean. When you follow the U.S. Postal Service, this might put you at a disadvantage, especially when it’s quarterly financial statement time.

    Operating income measures earnings (revenues minus expenses) before interest and taxes. Liquidity is the amount of financial resources (cash, equity, assets, credit) that an organization can easily convert to cash for spending and investments. Postal officials often mention the Postal Service’s lack of liquidity. Chief Financial Officer Joe Corbett said in January that the Postal Service’s liquidity, at its highest point in the year, is only about $3 billion. This isn’t much cushion for a $65 billion entity. And the cushion shrinks at certain points in the year, such as in October, when the Postal Service makes its workers’ compensation payment to the Labor Department.

    UPS and FedEx, companies with revenues about $20 billion less than the Postal Service, have liquidity of about $12 billion and $14 billion respectively, he noted. But what does this mean exactly? Well, companies with strong liquidity positions, such as UPS and FedEx, have much greater access to capital than the Postal Service. They have more opportunity to invest, whether in capital projects or new businesses. The Postal Service’s weak cash position means it cannot invest in the infrastructure or innovation. It also has no margin for error. What happens if a catastrophe strikes in October right after the Postal Service has made its workers compensation payment?

    Finally, the Postal Service has no available cash to pay down its debt. It reached its statutory borrowing limit of $15 billion in FY 2012 and it has been unable to borrow from the Treasury Department for more than a year.

    The Postal Service says employees will get paid – this is not an issue. And it has enough cash on hand to pay suppliers. But it has had to forego needed investment in its infrastructure, such as facility maintenance and vehicle replacement. And as the Postal Service considers a new business model for the digital age, it has no available cash to invest in new opportunities. It has not had the funds to make its required prefunding payment to the retiree healthcare fund for the past few years. The postage price increase in late January should help its cash position, but it will not build the bigger cushion it needs.

    Share your thoughts on the Postal Service’s cash position. What is hurt most by the Postal Service’s lack of liquidity? Is it missing opportunities because of its cash shortage? If its liquidity position were to improve, what should be the Postal Service’s priorities (infrastructure investment, paying down debt, lowering postal rates, etc.)? 

  • on Jan 20th, 2014 in Post Offices & Retail Network | 4 comments

    Add “upkeep of postal facilities” to the list of tasks that get increasingly difficult to do under a budget crunch. Yet, Americans are passionate about their post offices, so it seems maintenance should be a priority.

    However, the U.S. Postal Service’s financial challenges have made it hard to maintain facilities. During fiscal years 2009-2012, the Postal Service experienced a $382 million decrease in its budget for facility repairs, alterations, and capital improvements, resulting in incomplete repairs or unmet capital improvements. Our recent audit report found about half of the incomplete repairs represent safety or security issues and potential future major repairs. 

    Future costs for these unfunded repairs could reach $1.4 billion. In addition, our work determined that some of these repairs were potential Occupational Safety and Health Administration violations.

    The Postal Service operates 32,000 facilities throughout the country with 280 million square feet of space, and it includes post offices, mail processing facilities, and annexes. The Postal Service’s Facilities Department says employees and customers are not in danger, as it prioritizes repairs based on the safety and security of Postal Service property. Still, the Postal Service’s capital spending freeze initiated in 2009 has clearly had an impact on the ability to upgrade and repair facilities. The Postal Service spent 29 percent below the industry average on facility repairs in FY 2012. Lower priority repairs and improvements are less likely to occur, potentially leading to a longer-term cost.

    Our audit found the Postal Service lacking in developing a strategy to complete all necessary repairs and it did not always accurately prioritize repairs. We recommended it develop a strategy, reallocate funds to complete repairs, and reconcile its prioritization list annually.

    We welcome your thoughts.

    • How best can the Postal Service make the necessary repairs to its facilities while operating under budget constraints?
    • Will people be interested in buying or leasing Postal Service buildings that haven't been well maintained? Or could it affect the value of the properties?
    • Are there issues other than decreased funding that prevent the Postal Service from completing necessary repairs? 
  • on Aug 6th, 2012 in Finances: Cost & Revenue | 10 comments
    The Postal Service has built a strong brand name around service, trust, and security. Few other organizations can lay claim to such a strong brand, one with more than 200 years of history and cultivated by the Postal Service’s consistent fulfillment of its mission to securely deliver mail to every American, regardless of location, at a reasonable price. For 6 straight years, the Ponemon Institute has named the Postal Service the most trusted government agency and one of the top 10 most trusted businesses in the nation. Many postal observers have encouraged the Postal Service to leverage this “trusted brand” to expand its offerings in the digital market. But a steady drumbeat of bad news over the past few years around its financial situation, potential cuts in service, and uncertainty over its retail and network downsizing plans has unsettled stakeholders. The question many of them ask is whether the ongoing negative news coverage could be hurting the overall brand. Even the PMG noted earlier this year that the mailing industry is experiencing a “crisis in confidence.” Lingering uncertainty about the Postal Service’s future could further erode confidence. Further, competitors can use the turmoil to their advantage, touting their own services as easy and reliable in the face of uncertainty. What do you think? Have the ongoing news reports about the Postal Service’s finances and uncertain future affected your view of the organization? Do you think these reports hurt the Postal Service brand? Or is the Postal Service doing the best it can under the circumstances?

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