Friday, August 26, 2011

How Bad Is the Postal Service's Financial Position?

The Postal Service released its preliminary financial result for July, and as expected they were not good.  Combined with information provided in it 3rd quarter 10-Q, a fairly clear picture of the Postal Service's financial situation at the end of the year and beyond appears.

Measure of Financial Insolvency
The Postal Service is insolvent when it cannot pay its undisputed obligations.   In order to cover these obligations, the Postal Service needs to have sufficient net revenue and borrowing capability to pay undisputed obligations As of July 31, these were as follows:

Revenue Less Undisputed Obligations (Through July, 2011)
  • Total Revenue:      $55.821 billion
  • Total Costs:            $59.921 billion
    • Operating Expenses $56.667 billion
    • Net Interest Payments $0.123 billion
    • Retiree Health Benefit Premium (non-PAEA) approx. $2.020 billion
    • Workers Compensation Expense approx. $1.111 billion
  • Solvency Focused Net Income (Loss): ($4.1 billion)  
With two more months to go in the fiscal year, the Postal Service's solvency focused net losses will increase by over $1.5 billion.  This will leave the Postal Service with around $5.6 billion in FY 2011 obligations that it will not have cash coming from postage revenue to cover. 

Ability to Borrow:
As of the end of June, 2011, total Postal Service debt is 12.692 billion.  This gives the Postal Service $2.308 billion in unused borrowing capacity.  This is less than the $5.6 billion in debt the Postal Service would need to add to cover non PAEA obligations.  

Extent of Insolvency
The Postal Service's insolvency at the end of fiscal year 2011 will be the difference between its undisputed obligations and its ability to pay.  Based on the estimates above, the Postal Service will have to default on $3.292 billion of its bills and interest payments.  As the Postal Service pays most of its bills within 30 days and payroll more frequently, it is clear that the Postal Service will not pay the following bills over the next 90 days:
  • non-PAEA retiree health benefit payment
  • Workers compensation liability premium
  • Interest on debt
If losses are larger than projected in the last two months, the Postal Service may have to delay payments to Postal Service contractors until it has sufficient cash to cover its September bills and may have to pick and choose which contractors receive payment within 60 days and which ones may find even longer delays before their bills are paid.

Measure of Financial Viability

The Postal Service's financial problems go beyond insolvency.   In order to come up with cash to cover current bills, the Postal Service has been cutting nearly all investments designed to make the business relevant 5-10 years into the future.  These include investments in information technology, vehicles, facilities, retail modernization, and sortation equipment.   The continuing problems with OSHA violations also are symptomatic of the problems that deferred maintenance and training has on the physical plant and safe operation of postal facilities.  Finally, the Postal Service has to come up with cash to cover early retirement incentives and severance expenses if the Postal Service downsizes to meet the expected volumes of mail that the Postal Service will deliver in 5 and 10 years.

There is no information available as to the difference between the capital that is needed to ensure that the Postal Service remains a viable delivery entity for the next decade and what it is now spending or expects to have to spend in 2012 and beyond.  The cost of vehicles recently was estimated at $ 7 billion.  The Postal Service has estimates of the capital costs of information system and other capital programs that have been deferred.   The cost of severance and early retirement payments can be calculated.   If I were to guess, and this is only a guess, the Postal Service most likely needs $2 to 4 billion in cash for the next 5 years to cover its capital needs and the cost of transitioning to the volume reality of 2020. 

What Congress Needs to Do

Within two weeks, the Senate committee that oversee the Postal Service will hold ahearing on the future of the Postal Service.  This hearing will focus on the proposals that the Postal Service has made to transform its business strategy to one that would have ensure that revenue each year covers its undisputed obligations.   The numbers above suggest that this focus does not go far enough.

Congress needs to ask the Postal Service what its cash needs are so that the full extent of the Postal Service's financial problems are known.   Until that happens, no one will know whether any legislative solution or all of the legislative solutions introduced to date would be enough to ensure that the Postal Service continues to serve the American people in 2020.

Update: 8/28/2011
Additional discussion regarding the framework of a legislative package that can be found in the Post:
PAEA, Retitee Health Benefits and Postal Finances.   This post was written as a response to confusion created by an error in the original version of this post that listed PAEA retiree health benefit payment as one of th undispusted obligations that he Postal Service will not pay instead of the non-PAEA obliation to cover year-to-year changes in the liability.  The recommendation includes five parts:
  1. adjustments to the Postal Service's retiree beneifits liablity and payments;
  2. increased acccess to debt to cover losses and capital spending needs to allow the Postal Service to handle the switch to a leaner organization;
  3. changes to labor contracts in order to allow adjustments in the workforce to reflect the loss of First Class mail volume;
  4. Increases in rates; and
  5. A study of the capial needs of the Postal Service in order to fully frame its capital needs.  


John Paulson said...

Omitted as every other article I've read anywhere is a mention of the need for an "independent" 3rd party audit of the Postal Services Books.
In any other enterprise that I am aware of where a Management is claiming insolvency or bankruptcy an unbiased 3rd part audit is done.
As a 30 plus year veteran of the Postal Service I have seen the budget games Postal Management plays at contract time. For an organization in dire straights, this year alone I am hearing of mass installations of complete new lighting systems in very many Post Offices and Plants (3rd sets I've seen installed). My medium size Plant (approx 450) is so cool have many wear sweaters, yet currently a new Complete Central Air Conditioning system (duct work too) is being in this Postal owned facility installed despite it being destined to be closed.
Many in Congress and the world would be amazed at the money spent the last several years (and currently) on non-essential expenditures nation wide.
"In God We Trust". Everyone else required verification!

Anonymous said...

They are years late in acting.
Where is the urgency? Everyone
is waiting for the tax payers to
borrow more money and bail them

Anonymous said...

There are way too many people in management.there needs to be an independent outside agency to see this because the USPS cannot police themselves.

Anonymous said...

New lighting in our building... check.
Clerks wearing sweaters to keep warm in August... check.

Plus, parking lot completely removed and replaced with underlying drainage system and then a new parking lot (well done actually)... to fix half a dozen potholes that were in the old one.

Anonymous said...

I agree with all comments. I've been in 23 yrs. and have seen this incredible waste first hand. HQ created this mess, and they should be investigated held accountable for bleeding America's SERVICE dry. We cannot trust HQ to tell the truth. It's up to Congress to set up an investigation and stop these criminals. The first thing they should eliminate is bonuses.

Anonymous said...

There is enough civil service employees that can not wait to leave this place. Moral at an all time low. Clerks and carriers asked to do more than reasonable by supervisors eating doughnuts and playing video games. Just eliminate penalty for retiring early (no incentive)and people will pour out of this place. Someone with some sanity needs to take charge.

Anonymous said...

Yeah they love to waste money. We had about about a 20 inch tv that played usps programming in our break room that no one ever watched. A few months ago, it was replaced with a thirty some inch flatscreen that still no one watches. However, we ration rubbed bands and other supplies we need on a daily basis. What makes me sick is we're being micromanaged and bullied by 204bs and supervisors that don't have a clue about management. The only thing these bullies know how to do is push around their authority and basically lie to our faces when were giving an excessive workload and told we should be having eight our days. They gave no insight in how to actually get the most out of their employees. Ruling with an iron fist and bringing down moral by threating discipline for menial action such as talking or accidentally missing a msp scan does nothing to boost productivity. It only creates resentment and oppressive feelings for us carriers on a daily basis. Nothing takes the wind from our sails, and our desire to give it our best, than being torn down by these power tripping know nothings, when were really out there busting our asses.

Anonymous said...

Our office refuses to use carriers who want to work their dayoff at time and a half rate and instead force non-list and others to work til dark at double-time rate. Example: Monday-3 carriers left at home whose routes were open and 27hrs of double-time used. 3 rts x 1 1/2 vs 3 rts @ double-time and mail delivered earlier. Why? Because upper management has to pre-approve bringing dayoff people in. This is just one office here and not the most understaffed.