It was bad day for the global growth story on Wednesday, but don't tell that to the stock market. The S&P 500 enjoyed a splendid day, despite two pieces of evidence that international business conditions are in serious trouble.
Exhibit A: FedEx. Wednesday morning, the global shipping company announced earnings of $1.23 per share—which was not only 31 percent lower from the year prior, but 15 cents below analyst estimates. The company blamed the quarter on weakness in international markets, particularly in Asia, and said they expect that weakness to continue.
Exhibit B: Caterpillar. The world's biggest construction equipment maker announced that global sales to dealers dropped 13 percent for the three months through February. Asia-Pacific sales were especially soft, dropping by 26 percent.
So how did investors react to the twin pillars of bad news from these two barometers of global growth? By selling those stocks and buying the rest of the market. Actually, for the much of the morning, Caterpillar was the only Dow stock that was down.
The big question: Can the U.S. stocks continue to rally while the international growth story falls apart?
Steve Cortes of Veracruz doesn't think so.
"The idea that the U.S. can go it alone simply doesn't hold water, given how completely global the economy is," Cortes said. "Exports have a disproportionate impact on the American economy, and that tailwind is clearly in danger."
For Carter Worth of Oppenheimer, comparing the action in Caterpillar and FedEx to the behavior of the market as a whole paints a picture of remarkable discord. "The fact is that you have a debate here. The market is saying everything is fine, while that the largest shipper in the world and the largest hole-digger in the world are saying that everything is not fine."
Worth said the fundamentals settle the debate.
"When, if ever, has the market gone up for four years, with no GDP growth in the U.S.?" he asked. "A lot of smart people are right to not just high-five and believe that everything is fine. It's not fine. And things like CAT and FedEx are telling you that."
—By CNBC's Alex Rosenberg