NEW YORK — The fate of U.S. trucking company Yellow Corp. isn’t looking good.
After years of financial struggles, Yellow is reportedly preparing for bankruptcy and seeing customers leave in large numbers — heightening risk for future liquidation. While no official decision has been announced by the company, the prospect of bankruptcy has renewed attention around Yellow’s ongoing negotiations with unionized workers, a $700 million pandemic-era loan from the government and other bills the trucker has racked up over time.
Yellow, formerly known as YRC Worldwide Inc., is one of the nation’s largest less-than-truckload carriers. The Nashville, Tennessee-based company has some 30,000 employees across the country.
Here’s what you need to know.
IS YELLOW FILING FOR BANKRUPTCY?
Not yet. But industry experts suspect that a bankruptcy filing could come any day now.
People familiar with the matter told The Wall Street Journal that the company could seek bankruptcy protection as soon as this week — with some noting that a significant amount of customers have already started to leave the carrier.
Meanwhile, according to FreightWaves, employees were told to expect the filing Monday. Yellow laid off an unknown number of employees Friday, the outlet later reported, citing a memo that stated the company was “shutting down its regular operations.”
According to Satish Jindel, president of transportation and logistics firm SJ Consulting, Yellow handled an average of 49,000 shipments per day in 2022. As of this week, he estimates that number is down to between 10,000 and 15,000 daily shipments.
With customers leaving — as well reports of Yellow stopping freight pickups earlier this week — bankruptcy would “be the end of Yellow,” Jindel told The Associated Press, noting increased risk for liquidation.
“The likelihood of them surviving and remaining solvent diminishes really by the day,” added Bruce Chan, a research director at investment banking firm Stifel.
Yellow media contacts did not immediately respond to the Associated Press’ requests for comment on Friday. In a Wednesday statement to The Journal, the company said it was continuing “to prepare for a range of contingencies.” On Thursday, Yellow said it was in talks with multiple parties about selling its third-party logistics organization.
Even if Yellow was able to sell its logistics firm, it would “not generate a sufficient amount of cash to keep them operational on any sort of permanent basis,” Chan said. “Without a major equity injection, it would be very difficult for them to survive.”
HOW MUCH DEBT DOES YELLOW HAVE?
As of late March, Yellow had an outstanding debt of about $1.5 billion. Of that, $729.2 million was owed to the federal government.
In 2020, under the Trump administration, the Treasury Department granted the company a $700 million pandemic-era loan on national security grounds. Last month, a congressional probe concluded that the Treasury and Defense Departments “made missteps” in this decision — and noted that Yellow’s “precarious financial position at the time of the loan, and continued struggles, expose taxpayers to a significant risk of loss.”
The government loan is due in September 2024. As of March, Yellow had made $54.8 million in interest payments and repaid just $230 million of the principal owed, according to government documents.
Yellow’s current finances and prospect of bankruptcy “is probably two decades in the making,” Chan said, pointing to poor management and strategic decisions dating back to the early 2000s. “At this point, after each party has bailed them out so many times, there is a limited appetite to do that anymore.”
In May, Yellow reported a loss of $54.6 million, a decline of $1.06 per share, for its first quarter of 2023. Operating revenue was about $1.16 billion in the period.
A Wednesday investors note from financial service firm Stephens estimated that Yellow could be burning between $9 million and $10 million each day. Using a liquidity disclosure from earlier this month, Yellow had roughly $100 million in cash at the end of June, the note added — estimating that the company has been burning through increasing amounts of money through July.
“It is reasonable to believe that the Company could breach its $35 mil. liquidity requirement at any moment,” Stephens analyst Jack Atkins and associate Grant Smith wrote.
DID THE COMPANY JUST AVERT A STRIKE?
The reports of bankruptcy preparations arrive just days after a strike from the Teamsters, which represents Yellow’s 22,000 unionized workers, was averted.
A series of heated exchanges have built up between the Teamsters and Yellow, who sued the union in June after alleging it was “unjustifiably blocking” restructuring plans needed for the company’s survival. The Teamsters called the litigation “baseless” — with general president Sean O’Brien pointing to Yellow’s “decades of gross mismanagement,” which included exhausting the $700 million federal loan.
On Sunday, a pension fund agreed to extend health benefits for workers at two Yellow Corp. operating companies, averting a strike — and giving Yellow “30 days to pay its bills,” notably $50 million that Yellow failed to pay the Central States Health and Welfare Fund on July 15, the union said. While the strike didn’t occur, talks of a walkout may have caused some Yellow customers to pull back, Chan said.
Talks between Yellow and the Teamsters, which also represents UPS’s unionized workers, are ongoing. The current contract expires in March 2024.
“The financial struggles of Yellow are not related to the union and the contracts,” Jindel said, pointing to management’s responsibility around its services and prices. He added the union wages from Yellow are “lower than any competitor.”
WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IF YELLOW WENT UNDER?
If Yellow files for bankruptcy and customers continue to take their shipments to other carriers, like FedEx or ABF Freight, prices will go up.
Yellow’s prices have historically been the cheapest compared to other carriers, Jindel said. “That’s why they obviously were not making money,” he added. “And while there is capacity with the other LTL carriers to handle the diversions from Yellow, it will come at a high price for (current shippers and customers) of Yellow.”
Chan adds that we’re in an interesting time for the LTL marketplace — noting that, if Yellow declares bankruptcy and liquidates, “the freight would find a home” with other carriers, which may not have been true in recent years.
“It may take time, but there’s room for it to be absorbed,” he said.