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FedEx Delivers a Warning to Investors

Stocks in this article: FDX ODFL UPS

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Say what you want about the word "conviction" and what you believe a company is able to do or will do in the future. It is clear FedEx (FDX) Chairman Fred Smith is not about to let expectations of a perceived growing economy dictate his company's performance expectations.

A line has been drawn, and I believe it's the right move. But at what cost?

On Wednesday, the Federal Open Market Committee, led by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, hinted at a change in policy to spur the economic recovery, saying that "downside risks to the economic outlook for the economy and the labor market as having diminished since the fall."

While that's great news for the economy, it's not necessarily tremendous news for stocks that ebb and flow based of the expectations the Fed will continue to buy bonds the economic recovery.

Then there's FedEx, which with rival UPS (UPS) have often been viewed as barometers for the global economy, given the fact that they both conduct business on seemingly every continent.

So, it brought chills to the market when the chairman of FedEx, who should have a better-than-decent pulse on global spending, said that "tepid economic growth and customer preference for less costly international shipping services."

Whether Smith is right or wrong in relation to Bernanke's "upbeat" statement is not the issue here. The fact that Smith's somewhat gloomy outlook prompted analyst downgrades is a gross overreaction. Let's not get carried away.

All Smith is doing is what every great leader should do -- protecting his company. While I've always had a tremendous amount of respect for FedEx, I've also believed the Street's expectations for this company have been too high. Smith clearly agrees, and he's not about to set his company up for future disappointment.

Truth be told, despite FedEx's exceptional global assets and logistical infrastructure, the company has always underperformed in some very important categories such as free cash flow. That's not to say the company has been a disappointment. But there are a handful of stocks in this sector that have performed much better than FedEx over the past three years, including UPS and Old Dominion (ODFL).

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