The US Postal Service Could Use Bankruptcy

The Mail-Carrier is a Financial Hot Mess

We here at PETITION use an e-newsletter as our primary source of direct communication with our readers. Non-subscribers can see some, but not all, of the same content on our website on a delayed basis. And of course we tweet on occasion too (follow us here). Once upon a time, however, this kind of messaging depended upon physical marketing mail. 

Not so much anymore. The U.S. Postal Service recently reportedly a deluge of negative numbers. In the nine months ended 6/30, first-class mail volume fell 4.1% YOY and marking mail volume declined 1.8%. Per the Wall Street Journal"[T]he Postal Service's financial situation has continued to deteriorate. It has been hurt by the decline in first-class mail, its largest and most profitable business, as more communications shift online."  No. Sh*t. Sherlock. 

The situation is bad: the USPS has severely strained liquidity. The USPS reported a net loss of $2.1b for the fiscal third quarter, a nearly 25% loss YOY. It hasn't made payments to its retiree fund for five years (which basically means that retirees are financing operations) - skipping a $6.9b payment at the end of September. Retirees are owed $40b in total. Now the USPS seeks to increase the price of stamps and various shipping rates. But the Postal Regulatory Commission needs to approve such measures; it currently has a vacant Board of Governors that President Trumphasn't bothered to fill. Hard to think about the USPS during the middle of your latest golf round, we guess. #MAGA! 

Naturally, human capital costs are a big part of the problem. Decrease the high cost of employment - whether due to pensions, workers comp, wages, etc. - and this business may be more sustainable. This seems to be a pervasive theme for human capital businesses. This is why Uber, for instance, is so aggressively pursuing autonomous vehicles; it suffers from the same issue. 

And so what is the USPS looking into now to help promote economic efficiencies and curtail costs? Self-driving mail trucks, of course! A USPS-issued report notes that a semiautonomous prototype is in development now with a December delivery date (PETITION query: where the hell did the money come from?). As Wired reports, the idea is to have more efficient driving and fewer accidents, all the while allowing postal workers to perform other tasks in-truck rather than focusing on the driving 100% of the time. That way, no jobs are lost! Riiiiiiiiiiight. From Wired"The report's authors insist they're not looking to dump human workers, and that AVs can help by trimming other costs. The agency paid about $67 million in repair and tort costs associated with vehicle crashes last year. It also shelled out $570 million for diesel fuel. If the robots perform as promised, making driving much safer and more efficient, those costs could plummet. If the USPS sticks with this plan, the jobs of the nation's 310,000 mail carriers could change, for better or worse. Once the vehicles do all the driving, the humans will be left with the sorting and the intricacies of the delivery process. Unless, of course, a robot can figure out how to do those too. And whatever the report says about protecting jobs, it's clear that the best way to cut down on employee health care costs is to cut down on employees."  Our sentiments exactly. 

Someone needs to reorganize this dumpster fire. And fast. But can the USPS even file for bankruptcy? We'll leave others to the analysis: hereWeil Gotshal & Manges LLP's Charles Persons (written four years ago and we're STILL talking about this). If only we had a President who appreciated the benefits of bankruptcy AND had a same-party-Congress to do his bidding. Hmmm.