While certain companies are known as bellwethers for their industry, a select few can alert us to trends in the U.S. and global economies. Two who can are worldwide shipping giants FedEx (NYSE: FDX) and United Parcel Service (NYSE: UPS), both deriving roughly a quarter of their revenues from overseas operations.

While we'll have to wait until late July for UPS's take on things, FedEx reported fourth-quarter earnings on Wednesday and the accompanying conference call was interesting. CEO Fred Smith sees improving global economic conditions and related continued growth in his business, along with improving margins.

Smith also relayed positive news regarding the inventory situations for companies they serve: "Shipments by air are growing, largely aided by the current inventory cycle, as companies find themselves with inventories too lean to meet customer demand using slower modes of transport."

Also noteworthy from the call -- expect a bump up in capital expenditures over normal levels, to $3.2 billion for the fiscal-year. The main reason is the purchase of more of the fuel-efficient Boeing 777 aircraft, which Smith says is "a significant competitive advantage for us" that allows later cutoff delivery times in some major global markets.

If you're a FedEx shareholder, the increase in CapEx is a good glimpse at how your management is thinking. "We're confident," says Smith, "investments in the Boeing 777's and 757's will improve returns for our shareowners by increasing margins, returns on invested capital and cash flow."

When you come right down to it, that's what it's all about.

Fool analyst Rex Moore feels all tied up after watching the two U.S. World Cup soccer matches. He owns no companies mentioned here. FedEx is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor choice. United Parcel Service is a Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.