The world’s second-largest package delivery company is predicting a record number of shipments during the U.S. holiday season this year.

FedEx said Monday that it expects to deliver 260 million packages between late November and the end of this year, a 12 percent gain over last year. The firm will hire 20,000 temporary workers to handle the flood of packages, about 3,000 more than last year.

Economists watch shipping companies closely for hints about future economic growth. They also track holiday sales because the customary gift-giving at Christmas is critical to the profits of many merchants.

Another upbeat economic report came from the world’s largest manufacturer of construction and mining equipment on Monday. Caterpillar reported rising revenue, profits and sales during July, August and September. The firm has added almost 5,000 workers in the past few months.

U.S.-based Caterpillar operates around the world and exports much of its output.

Most U.S. businesses surveyed by economists say the American economy will continue to grow, but predict expansion will slow down.

The National Association of Business Economists published a survey of companies across the country on Monday. Most company officials questioned said the nation’s output will have increased 2 percent or less by the end of 2011. That is less expansion of the Gross Domestic Product than the U.S. central bank has been predicting.

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