Third-quarter earnings rose 35% from a year ago at FedEx ( FDX), as the company harvested a strong holiday shipping season and lower-than-expected fuel costs. FedEx earned $428 million, or $1.38 a share, in the quarter, compared with $317 million, or $1.03 a share, a year ago. Analysts had estimated $1.30 a share in the most recent quarter. Third-quarter sales rose 9% from a year ago to $8 billion, roughly matching the consensus estimate. The company's total combined average daily package volume at FedEx Ground and FedEx Express rose 4% in the quarter, led by improved ground and international express package growth. "Earnings for our third quarter were better than forecasted due to a stronger-than-expected holiday peak season for FedEx Ground, improved productivity in our transportation segments, lower than expected fuel costs, deferral of advertising and promotion costs to the fourth quarter and a lower effective tax rate," FedEx said. "Our earnings guidance for the fourth quarter, which assumes continued economic growth, reflects a more normal expense trend." The company pegged its fourth-quarter earnings at $1.65 to $1.80 a diluted share. Analysts were forecasting $1.73 a share, according to Thomson First Call.