It's a story with an all too familiar ring. FedEx (NYSE:FDX) delivered strong results for its August quarter, but lowered its forward guidance in the face of a softening U.S. economy and rising fuel costs.

For the quarter, the company earned $494 million, or $1.58 per share, compared with $475 million, or $1.53 a share in the August 2006 quarter. Total sales increased 8% to $9.2 billion.

The real story here is twofold: the increasing economic softness at home and the effects of steadily increasing crude oil prices. In the former area, FedEx followed a July release by UPS (NYSE:UPS) that included similar concerns about U.S. economy softness. Indeed, FedEx founder and CEO Fred Smith pointed to "...a sluggish U.S. economy," but also noted that, "Outside of the United States, the economy is generally solid, contributing to the growth in our international express shipments."

Economy watchers are attentive to FedEx, a Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick, and UPS, a Motley Fool Income Investor pick, as barometers of economic strength. On that basis, the company's comments about its U.S. business were far more than casually important. It was also noteworthy that FedEx management forecast that the current quarter's per-share earnings likely would come in the $1.60 to $1.75 range, substantially below the $1.95 consensus.

The most recent earnings season saw a number of big companies benefit from international strength, which helped to offset U.S. softness. Indeed, the list of similarly affected entities include the disparate likes of equipment manufacturer Caterpillar (NYSE:CAT), oilfield services leader Schlumberger (NYSE:SLB), international cement giant Cemex (NYSE:CX), and, of course, UPS. FedEx's observations thus become an important confirmation of that trend.

At the same time, the company is the first that I can recall to point specifically to the negative effects of higher energy prices. Crude oil prices have moved virtually nonstop during this month from just above $70 a barrel to a current level near $82. Somehow, I don't think FedEx will be the last to make this point.

So, while FedEx is admittedly encountering some domestic headwinds, it's clearly in a league with numerous other U.S.-based international companies today. And given its capable, time-tested management, along with its key role in global commerce, I'd advise Fools to keep this quality company clearly in their sights.

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Fool contributor David Lee Smith doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned. He welcomes your questions or comments. Cemex is a recommendation of Stock Advisor and Global Gains. The Motley Fool has an internationally recognized disclosure policy.