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The FedEx profit warning that roiled stock markets may be the ‘first in a series’

September 18, 2022, 8:31 PM UTC
A FedEx delivery truck.
FedEx is a bellwether of global economic growth.

FedEx’s bad news for investors might be just the beginning. The package delivery giant roiled stock markets with a profit warning Thursday evening that sent its shares plunging more than 20% the next day, their biggest-ever daily drop. Fears of similar news from other companies in the weeks ahead are mounting.

The FedEx announcement was the “first in a series of warnings that we may see for the quarters to come,” Swissquote senior analyst Ipek Ozkardeskaya told Bloomberg, adding it “came as a slap” to investors and was a “solid sign” the economy has started slowing.

Others shared the sense of foreboding. Carl Riccadonna, chief U.S. economist at BNP Paribas, told MarketWatch on Friday, “You are going to see more businesses talking about the slowing economy, less pricing power.” Some companies might “defy the math,” he told the outlet, but ultimately macroeconomic trends drive microeconomic stories.

A global recession

FedEx CEO Raj Subramaniam did not spare investors from the doom and gloom. Asked on CNBC if a “worldwide recession” was ahead, he answered, “I think so; these numbers don’t portend very well. We are seeing volume decline in every segment around the world. So we just assume at this point that economic conditions are not going to be good.”

His company’s poor results are “a reflection of everybody else’s businesses,” he added on a particularly ominous note.

FedEx, with the wide range of items it ships worldwide, has long been considered a bellwether of global economic growth.

The company had been expected to announce its first-quarter earnings on Sept. 22, but opted for the earnings pre-announcement, not surprising given how badly its actual results fell short of forecasts and expectations.  

In its warning, FedEx said it expected business conditions to further weaken, adding it would withdraw guidance for the rest of its fiscal year. It blamed the poor performance on “global volume softness” that “accelerated” in the final weeks of the quarter.

“We are swiftly addressing these headwinds, but given the speed at which conditions shifted, first-quarter results are below our expectations,” Subramaniam said in a statement. “While this performance is disappointing, we are aggressively accelerating cost reduction efforts and evaluating additional measures to enhance productivity, reduce variable costs, and implement structural cost-reduction initiatives.”

The company also said it would defer hiring, reduce flight frequency, close 90 office locations, and reduce capital expenditures by $500 million over the coming year.

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