Books written by Ray Sullivan

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Post Office Investors Wary of Photoframes

The Post Office in the UK is rightly proud of the fact that it was the world's first public postal service.  It made the logical link early on that once you have a postal network established then in essence it doesn't cost a penny more to send a letter to the other side of the country than it does to send it to the next street.  To be fair, it only works with volume and the Post Office has had its fair share of that over the years.

But all postal services have become squeezed over the last few years, largely because of the impact of the internet.  Sure, the likes of eBay and Amazon have boosted parcel delivery services, but the Post Office doesn't have a monopoly on them, far from it.  What it does have a monopoly on is the delivery of letters to the door and the advent of universal email has more or less made that uneconomical. In fact, with the exception of postal box to postal box commercial deliveries such as DX in the UK there is no competition at all for domestic mail.

Now the Post Office has just been floated on the London Stock Exchange and the Government has come under fire for listing the shares too low. Unlike Twitter, which was floated at about the same time, the price didn't rise then plummet but just rose and stabilised. Now I'm no investment genius - I wouldn't be writing Sci-Fi thrillers, comedic novels and the occasional blog post as well as working full-time if I was - but I resisted the urge to invest in the Post Office for fairly rational reasons.

First, the Post Office lost the plot several years ago. In fact it was recovering from the most pointless rebranding exercise in history - some idiot managed to persuade the Post Office to ditch the most recognisable brand name in the world for the obscure name of Consignia. Thankfully that was reversed and hopefully the fools responsible for the rebranding exercise were sacked without compensation, although I doubt it. But having made the bold reversal move they then introduced Postage in Proportion, a system where consumers have to calculate both the size and the weight of a letter.  Get it wrong and the recipient has to pay the missing postage plus a penalty. Worse, they have to make a decision regarding paying this money without knowing who it is from or what it may contain. Sure, over the near term they may have fleeced a fair bit of profit out of normal customers but those people are now increasingly willing to consider alternatives, such as email.

On top of all that there is a very real proposition of industrial action taking place. The postal unions are vocally upset over the sale and strikes are a very real likelihood.

So why did intelligent investors not only snap up the Post Office Shares, but boost their value? Well, not all the investors were professionals, they were Joe Average, the man in the street. The government ring-fenced a big chunk of the shares for ordinary taxpaying UK residents who may not have dabbled in stocks and shares before. Some will know a lot about trading, many will not. My guess is that those who do know what is going on are banking on the only time we can guarantee that the Post Office is likely to be really busy with delivering letters, specifically Christmas cards. Once the volume has peaked I expect a selling frenzy to take place with the resultant drop in value.

But I'm going to suggest an idea that may impact on the seasonal rush of cards. Most of us will have the seven inch photo frames that sold well a few years ago, before everyone carried their photo albums on their mobile phones and tablet computers. Many are languishing in drawers now, the fad having passed by. How about dusting them off and encouraging friends and family to send their greetings electronically in JPEG format? Buy 1 Christmas card, one you really like, scan it and send the image to all your friends. Add a nice personal message to each in your finest hand - or use a script font in Word if your handwriting is like mine - and scan that in too. The recipients then load the JPEGs onto their photo frames and place them on the mantelpiece in pride of place. Your cards will cycle through continuously along with the messages. If anyone gives or sends you a real card, scan it in yourself.

If this idea takes off then we'll all save a fortune on postage this Christmas, admittedly at the cost of losing the Post Office. That organisation is doomed already, it's just a matter of when, not if. It will hurt the professional investors who are going to fleece the amateur players no matter what happens. If you are one of those amateurs and the share price is showing you a profit then consider taking that profit now. And if you don't have an electronic photo frame in a drawer, consider using some of the profit to buy one. If this idea works for you, why not sense a Christmas card. Electronically of course.


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