I went into FedEx's (NYSE:FDX) earnings thinking I probably wasn't going to like what I saw. After all, the Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick's stock was just barely above its 52-week low, analysts were expecting mediocre growth, and we all know what sort of havoc high oil prices have wreaked on the transportation sector. I've got to say that I was pleasantly surprised with what I found.

Turning first to the earnings, FedEx reported that first-quarter revenue rose about 10%, as three of the company's four main operating units reported double-digit sales increases. While the operating margin decreased on an as-reported basis, results were weighed down by a $79 million non-cash charge pertaining to leases. Without that charge, the operating margin actually expanded from 8.3% last year to 8.5% this quarter.

Likewise, both operating and net income were depressed by that charge, with operating income rising just 1% and net income up 3%. Backing the charge out, though, operating income seems to have risen roughly 14%, while net income grew about 17%.

Fuel costs still matter, of course. Whether you're FedEx, UPS (NYSE:UPS), a trucking company like Old Dominion (NASDAQ:ODFL) or Yellow (NASDAQ:YELL), an air carrier like Continental (NYSE:CAL), or any other business that carries cargo of one sort or another, fuel costs are taking a bigger chunk of profits out of your wallet.

In the case of FedEx this quarter, fuel expenses climbed 51% and constituted about $0.49 a share in additional costs. Of course, the company made some of that back through fuel surcharges, but any way you slice it, fuel is having an impact. Yet the company is still growing -- well enough, in fact, to raise its full-year estimate a bit above the prior average.

It's reasonable to sound a note of caution with respect to the broader economy. If the economy slows down -- whether due to high oil prices, higher interest rates, housing issues, or all of the above -- shipping activity will slacken as well. But "slow down" does not mean stop -- there will still be business out there, and a strong hand like FedEx may be able to take share from smaller players that lack the wherewithal to compete effectively in tough times.

I would suspect that these macroeconomic factors account for the apparently attractive price of FedEx shares. True, the business may slow a bit if the economy hits a rough patch, but I think this well-run company is still poised to grow faster than the broader market, even though it's currently trading at a discount to that market.

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Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).