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) -- Analysts expect big things from

Federal Express

(FDX) - Get Free Report

, which reports earnings Thursday.

The consensus estimate is $1.21 a share for the company's fiscal first quarter, which ended Aug. 31. That is more than double the 58 cents that FedEx earned in the same period a year earlier. "The numbers are going to be good," said Standard & Poor's analyst Jim Corridore, in an interview. He expects "continued growth in international package and air express

to be strong."

The big question, Corridore said, will concern the impact of the slowing economy on FedEx's domestic performance. "The direction will be important," he said. Corridore has a strong buy on FedEx, as well as a buy on


(UPS) - Get Free Report


Avondale Partners analyst Don Broughton is also optimistic about FedEx, and has raised his estimate to $1.25 from $1.14 because of his strong expectations for the company's international performance. Broughton expects the company to raise its full-year guidance in "the near future," possibly at its Sept. 28 investor meeting. Full year guidance is currently $4.60 to $5.20, which Broughton considers conservative.

"The primary drivers to our EPS raise are stronger-than-originally-expected year-over-year gains in volume and price for International Express

the company's most profitable business," Broughton wrote in a recent report, adding "our model already assumes increases in labor costs and capacity-related expense growth." He expects 25% growth in international express volume.

Incidentally, an odd thing happened after

FedEx reported fourth quarter earnings on June 16. Although the company beat estimates by a penny and more than doubled its year-earlier earnings, the stock shed $4.94 to close at $78.07, largely because CFO Alan Graf spoke of a fixed pension cost increase of $260 million due to the decline in the discount rate. "I doubt any of you had that much of an increase in projections," Graf told analysts on the June earnings call.

In retrospect, that created a buying opportunity, as

suggested by

The Street

on June 17. Late Tuesday morning, FedEx shares were trading at $85.49. By comparison, the S&P 500 Index opened at 1,114 on June 16 and trades today at 1,122.

For the year, FedEx shares are up only slightly from a 2010 opening price of $84.21. Shares in UPS traded shortly before noon Tuesday at $67.72, up from a 2010 opening price of $58.18. The S&P Index is flat for the year.

-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here:

Ted Reed