Sometimes it pays to turn off the chatterbox and just sit back and mull over a big company's earnings report. That's particularly true when it's a company like UPS (NYSE:UPS), whose fortunes are supposed to give you a better-than-average glimpse into the real health of the overall economy.

Clearly, folks did not like what they heard from UPS last week. As the company posted lower margins, and management reported that it saw signs of slowing economic activity, investors battered the shares. If that wasn't enough, more than a few pundits jumped on the story as proof that the rate hikes are starting to show some bite, and that good times may be on a countdown.

I'm not so sure.

First of all, what do UPS' quarterly numbers really tell us? Revenue was up 15% overall, and average daily package volume was up 6%. Consider, too, that railroads like NorfolkSouthern (NYSE:NSC) posted mid-single-digit growth in revenue ton miles (Burlington Northern (NYSE:BNI) also reported 10% growth), while trucking company Arkansas Best (NASDAQ:ABFS) posted pretty decent volume growth as well. Clearly, then, there's still demand to haul goods around the country.

Looking further, the discrepancy between UPS' revenue growth and operating income growth (which came in a little under 10%) seems to have something to do with higher fuel costs and purchased transportation costs. To me, that's an issue about how management implements and collects fuel surcharges and manages its expenses.

So I find it interesting to set management's views on the economy against the fact that volume was strong, and that the company apparently had little trouble reaping more than 2% more revenue per package. Moreover, while there was some weakness in retail, manufacturing was still solid. But given how short inventory lead times are today, and how reluctant companies are to spend on capex until they really need it, why this dichotomy?

While I would expect the economy to cool off (that's what higher rates are supposed to do), I think sentiment got a bit Chicken Little-ish in the wake of UPS' earnings. Even UPS itself didn't predict the terrible results that some folks apparently tried to read into its words. And while I must confess that I've never given much thought to what Brown could do for my portfolio, it's tough not to respect a company with such a good record of returns on capital.

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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).