• 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 Mar 3rd, 2014 in Ideas Worth Exploring | 3 comments

    Canada Post shares a number of similarities with the U.S. Postal Service, including its founding by Benjamin Franklin in 1753 when both Canada and the 13 colonies were under British rule. Both posts are self-supporting, meaning they pay for their operations through the sale of postage and services. And Canada Post, like the Postal Service, has suffered volume losses the past few years.

    Here’s where things get different, though. Canada Post has adopted a radical plan to restore its financial health, featuring bold initiatives that might seem too politically difficult in the United States. Canada Post’s five-point plan is intended to streamline operations, cut costs, and return the corporation to fiscal self-sufficiency by 2019.

    The plan features:

    1. Ending to-the-door residential delivery over 5 years. Two-thirds of Canadian residents already are without to-the-door delivery, so, while it is a major change, perhaps it is not as disruptive as it would be in other countries.
    2. Upping the price of postage. Bought in bulk, stamps that now cost 63 cents (CAD) will be 83 cents. Bought singly, the same stamps will cost $1. The increase still needs approval from the regulator.
    3. Streamlining via franchise post offices. Franchise post offices are more convenient for customers and less costly to operate. There’s a moratorium, however, on closing existing rural post offices given their popularity among customers.
    4. Increasing efficiency. Consolidation and technology improvements, including faster sorting equipment and more fuel-efficient vehicles, should improve operations. No resulting changes are expected in the corporation’s fairly relaxed 2- to 4-day delivery standard for letter service, yet parcel delivery is expected to improve.
    5. Reducing labor costs. Along with the service cuts, Canada Post said it would eliminate 8,000 jobs, mostly through attrition.

    Canada’s plan has met with criticism from opposition political leaders, labor unions, and some citizens. But Canada Post defends the plan saying without major operational changes it will lose $1 billion a year starting in 2020. It also faces a $6.5 billion pension fund shortfall.

    What could the United States learn from the Canada Post plan? Are some of these initiatives worth trying in the United States? Or are they not the right approach for the U.S.? What cost-cutting and revenue-generating ideas should the Postal Service focus on? 

  • on Sep 26th, 2013 in Pricing & Rates | 9 comments

    The U.S. Postal Service’s governing body, the Board of Governors, voted this week to request permission to raise postage prices above the inflation-based price cap to generate $2 billion in revenue in 2014. It is asking the regulator, the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC), to allow the Postal Service to raise the price of a stamp by 3 cents (to 49 cents), which is 2 cents more than the annual inflationary increase. Prices on other single-piece and commercial mail products would also increase. This request is known as an “exigent” price increase because it will exceed the statutorily mandated price cap that is tied to growth in the Consumer Price Index (CPI).

    By law, the Postal Service can only raise prices on its market-dominant products, such as First-Class Mail, advertising mail, and magazines, by the annual growth in inflation. The law allows it to ask the regulator for a price increase above inflation for “exceptional or extraordinary” circumstances. In a public letter to customers, Board Chairman Mickey Barnett described the “precarious financial condition” of the Postal Service and the “uncertain path toward enactment of postal reform legislation” as primary reasons for seeking price changes above inflation. Barnett said if comprehensive postal reform legislation were to pass, the Postal Service would reconsider its pricing strategy.

    The Postal Service filed for an exigent price increase in July 2010, saying the economic recession was an exceptional circumstance that threatened its viability. The PRC rejected the proposal and the Postal Service challenged the rejection in federal appeals court. The court remanded the original case back to the PRC, but at that time, the Postal Service did not pursue it.

    If the PRC were to approve this current request, the Postal Service would raise prices on January 14, 2014. On average, postage rates would increase 5.9 percent – or 4.3 percent above CPI. Mailer groups are expected to oppose the exigent price increase. The PRC has 90 days to issue an opinion on the Postal Service’s exigent price increase proposal.

    What do you think? Share your thoughts on the proposed exigent price increase.

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