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.)?