Every few days during a typical earnings season, we receive results from a company that, simply because of the economic nature and geographic spread of its business, warrants the label "bellwether."

Giant international equipment maker Caterpillar (NYSE:CAT), for instance, told us about its quarter earlier this week. While its results were solid, there was increased caution about the global economy in management's look ahead. Ditto for oilfield services leader Schlumberger (NYSE:SLB), which similarly reported a sound quarter, but also had obvious reservations about the future.

Yesterday, it was United Parcel Service's (NYSE:UPS) turn. Because the big global carrier is a barometer of the volumes and locations of business and personal shipping worldwide, it, along with FedEx (NYSE:FDX), is perhaps considered a bellwether of bellwethers. And so it was meaningful that the company, while reporting lower profits, surprised forecasters on the upside.

Net income was $970 million for the quarter, down nearly 10% from the $1.08 billion for last year's third quarter. On the EPS line, the company generated $0.96, seven cents above expectations. Both the U.S. Domestic Package business and its International Package counterpart managed to increase revenues, but saw skinnier margins cut into operating profits. The "grower" was Supply Chain and Freight, which managed an expansion of its revenue, operating profit, and margins.

Looking ahead, and like so many large companies of late -- Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) being the most recent example -- UPS management was cautionary about what lies ahead. As such, it is hewing to the lower end of its mid-year $3.50-$3.70 per-share earnings range. It also used "challenging" to indicate its expectations for the next several quarters. That sentiment clearly was intensified by a noticeable falloff in its business late in the quarter.

Largely on that basis, management is taking steps to help it "manage through these tough business conditions." Those steps will include a $200 million reduction in capital spending, along with layoffs where necessary.

For my money, UPS is a name that deserves Foolish consideration unless one is inclined to avoid the market entirely for a spell. The company stands to benefit over time from its global business spread and the quality of its leadership. Declining energy prices also won't hurt.

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United Parcel Service is a Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation, while FedEx is a Stock Advisor pick. Microsoft is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.

Fool contributor David Lee Smith doesn't have interests in any of the companies mentioned. He does welcome your questions or comments. The Fool has a disclosure policy.