FedEx: Late for Delivery

If you're a Fool, you no doubt have at least one eye focused on the health of the U.S. economy. If so, you couldn't have been cheered by Friday's announcement that the management of economic bellwether FedEx (NYSE: FDX  ) is trimming the company's quarterly outlook.

The pullback isn't huge -- a new range of $1.45 to $1.55 per share replaces the prior guidance of $1.60 to $1.75. It's also not especially surprising. The difference relates primarily to spiraling oil prices, about which management noted, "Since we provided earnings guidance for the second quarter in September, our fuel costs have increased more than eight percent, or $85 million."

But since FedEx and its shipping rival UPS (NYSE: UPS  ) form a de facto team to constitute the real Santa Claus, the news also isn't positive for those who've become increasingly concerned about our domestic economy. The guidance cuts have to be seen as a potential precursor of a somewhat less-than-robust holiday season.

Beyond that, the FedEx reductions -- the fiscal year's expectations were trimmed to a range of $6.40 to $6.70 per share, from $6.70 to $7.10 -- came at virtually the same time as a Federal Reserve announcement that the output of U.S. factories, mines, and utilities fell by 0.5% in October, the biggest drop since January. Subsets of this news included across-the-board declines in the output of consumer goods, business equipment, manufacturing, and motor vehicles.

Of course, anyone who was attentive to the recent earnings season probably isn't shocked by these signs of economic wilting. Company after company described soft results in the U.S. that were generally overcome by strength overseas. Included in this disparate group were equipment manufacturer Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT  ) , cement manufacturer Cemex (NYSE: CX  ) , aluminum manufacturer Alcoa (NYSE: AA  ) , and chemicals producer DuPont (NYSE: DD  ) .

As for Motley Fool Stock Advisor selection FedEx, I continue to be intrigued by the company's 13 times forward 2008 P/E, its solid international franchise, and its muscular balance sheet. With the share price sitting at a 52-week low, I'm inclined to pay close attention to this solid company.

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