According to the old saying, nothing is certain but death and taxes. But I think it's time to bring the saying up to date, since other nearly statistical certainties come to mind as well. For instance, I won't land a date with Angelina Jolie. I mean, if Brad Pitt weren't in the picture, maybe. And in the realm of investing, it is as close to a guarantee as one can find that if the world economy keeps growing, so, too, will FedEx
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: If you are looking for an investment to grow old with, put a portion of your profile in FedEx. Detractors might point out that in the most recent quarter, sales increased by only 7.4%, while operating margins were squeezed lower by 1.5%, leading to a net decline in profits of 1.9%.
"You see, there are no guarantees," one might surmise.
Yet I am reminded of my favorite quote from all-world NBA star Michael Jordan, when he declared with honesty: "I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions, I have been entrusted to take the game-winning shot ... and missed. I have failed over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."
The point is, FedEx might miss a shot here and there, but the company really is as close to a long-term winner as you are going to find in the world of investing.
After analyzing FedEx's latest quarterly earnings conference call, my confidence in the company was once again reaffirmed. Join me as we highlight some of the key topics in the recent call, particularly recent investments the company has made in China and India.
FedEx is well-positioned in the global economy
A good way to get a read on the health of the global economy is by tuning into calls for global shippers like FedEx and UPS
After narrowing in on some of the transitional changes under way -- namely, the automobile industry and housing market -- that are leading to a lower rate of growth than expected in the U.S. economy, Smith quickly turned his attention to the major long-term trends driving global commerce. One such trend is that "smaller economies will integrate into one worldwide interdependent economy."
Do you know where Tortola is located? FedEx does. It is a British Virgin Island, and yes, FedEx offers shipping services for the tiny province. But where we tend to see FedEx's most visible effort to cater to an increasingly interdependent global economy is in its expansion efforts in large, rapidly growing markets like India and China.
It's China and India, again
As for China, Smith pointed to one of the most recent as well as one of the most significant developments from FedEx: a plan to offer domestic express service in China. Expected to be "fully operational in June," the service will offer "guaranteed next-business-day time-definite service to 19 cities, and day-definite delivery service to more than 200 cities throughout the country." Yet another guarantee to add to the list.
Investors should be reminded that such a plan also carries costs. While the domestic express service in China should be a winner in the long term, the new operation will be a drag on earnings over the next several months. During the question-and-answer session, CFO Alan Graf stated that he believes the investment will turn profitable in no more than 12 to 18 months.
And in India, the company completed its acquisition of its service provider there, called PAFEX. Formerly privately owned, PAFEX is now considered one of the largest express services in India. According to Smith, the acquisition gives FedEx a greater ability "to invest more effectively and directly in the long-term growth and prosperity of India's economy."
A slowdown in the U.S. is a slowdown in China
In the Q&A session, FedEx Express President Dave Bronczek indicated that the company saw "growth across the board in international." He highlighted Europe and Latin America specifically and added that it was "a little bit softer in the Asia-Pacific market, similar to the United States."
Toward the end of the call, Smith explained the link between the recent slowdown in the U.S. economy and in the Asia-Pacific region, and why we are not seeing the same slowdown in Europe. In the trans-Atlantic shipping lane, trade between Europe and the U.S. is more of a two-way street. In the trans-Pacific corridor, however, trade is predominantly eastbound, heading to the U.S., and largely consisting of manufactured goods. With the Asia-Pacific region, and particularly China, operating as the manufacturing "basin" for the U.S., a slowdown in the U.S. economy has a direct effect on China.
The good news is that management is expecting the Asia-Pacific market to "bounce back very quickly." And when it does, I suspect that its latest moves in China and India will prove very lucrative.
What to expect in fiscal 2008
Over the long term, FedEx aims for annual growth of roughly 10% in revenue, 10% to 15% in earnings per share, and 10%-plus in operating margins. No specific number was provided, but EPS growth for fiscal 2008 is expected to come in lower than the targeted 10% to 15% range.
One of the primary reasons for the expected shortfall is that revenues will likely contract a bit because of a slowing U.S. and Asia-Pacific market that is projected to last through at least the first half of the fiscal year. Ideally, management would like to see U.S. GDP growth of 3.5% for FedEx to propel into that 10% to 15% range, but this year, GDP will likely come in at 1% to 2%. The economy has to work down some excess inventory, particularly in the housing and automobile sectors, until it can start expanding again. Management is hopeful that inventory expansion will kick in at the back half of the fiscal year.
On top of a reduction in revenue, margins will be squeezed, since FedEx is not planning to deviate from its investment plans. We've highlighted two major investments already, one in China and the other in India, but there are others, including an acquisition in the United Kingdom as well as the continued conversion of its Boeing
With sales contracting and margins being squeezed, why do I remain confident in FedEx? The company remains a winner for me because what happens this year or even the next in terms of the global economy is less of a concern than planning to capitalize on long-term global trends. While FedEx could save a buck here and there by cutting back on planned investments at a time when the economy is slowing down, it is instead wisely preparing for the future. Because of these investments, when growth rebounds in the global economy, so, too, will FedEx's profits take flight.
Take flight with related Foolishness:
- FedEx's Dented Package: Fool by Numbers
- Foolish Forecast: FedEx in the Mail
- Fool on Call: Happy Associates, Happy FedEx
UPS is a Motley Fool Income Investor pick.