US: Exxon Dethrones Wal-Mart on Fortune 500 List

Skyrocketing energy prices propelled ExxonMobil (XOM) to the top of the 2006 Fortune 500 list, and consigned Wal-Mart (WMT) to the No. 2 spot on the magazine's annual ranking of the nation's largest publicly traded companies.

Fortune compiled its list based on companies' 2005 revenue. Exxon raked in $340 billion in revenue, a 25.5% increase over 2004, and had $36.1 billion in profit, the most by any U.S. company in history.

ExxonMobil last appeared at No. 1 in 2001. Only Wal-Mart, Exxon and General Motors (GM) have topped the list since its inception in 1954.

Wal-Mart had $315.654 billion in revenue, a 9.5% increase from last year. Because of its pervasive U.S. presence, the world's largest retailer has struggled to sustain profit growth in the high teens as it had in previous years.

Other oil producers also rose in the rankings, boosted by crude prices that topped $70 a barrel and gasoline prices that surpassed $3 a gallon after hurricanes battered the Gulf Coast.

Both ChevronTexaco (CVX) and ConocoPhillips (COP) saw their revenue jump in 2005, increasing by 28% and 37%, respectively. Chevron climbed two spots to No. 4, while Conoco edged up to No. 6 from No. 7 last year.

The major U.S. automakers showed their vulnerability as they faced declining U.S. sales and increasing benefit costs.

GM barely retained its hold on the No. 3 spot, while Ford (F) slipped to fifth place from No. 4. GM's revenue decreased nearly half a percent to $192.604 billion, while Ford's rose less than 3% to $177.21 billion.

General Electric (GE) slipped two rungs to No. 7, while its revenue rose 3.1% to $157.153 billion. Citigroup (CPRF) and American International Group (AIG) followed at Nos. 8 and 9, holding their places from 2005.

IBM (IBM) held on to the last spot in the top 10, although its revenue fell by 5.4% to $91.134 billion.

In general, 2005 treated the top U.S. companies to big revenue and profit. The 500 brought in a combined $9.1 trillion in revenue, a 10.2% increase over last year, and $610 billion in profit, record numbers on both accounts.

Low long-term interest rates, which spurred consumer spending, and a growing global economy helped the companies to hit those records. The global economy grew by 4.25%, led by China, India and a recovering Japan.

"We really are a one world economy," said Cait Murphy, assistant managing editor at Fortune. "If the global economic growth is strong, then the 500 will do well, because they have substantial operations and sales abroad."

Only three of the 47 industry groups that the magazine tracks lost money last year: the airline, motor vehicles and building materials industries.

The seven airline companies on the list lost a total of $28.4 billion last year. Only Southwest Airlines (LUV) was profitable. Ten of the 16 motor vehicle companies were profitable, but big losses from GM and Delphi (DFG) weighed down the sector.

Pipelines, Internet services and retailing, petroleum refining and mining-crude oil production were the fastest-growing industries of 2005.

Internet services and retailing companies turned in a 125.9% increase in profit, prompting the magazine to create a new industry category. The most notable newcomers to the 500 fell into that category, with Google (GOOG) debuting at No. 353, Yahoo! (YHOO) at No. 412 and eBay (EBAY) at No. 458. The three combined for $5.7 billion in profit.

Meanwhile, Gateway (GTW) failed to make the list this year after appearing on it since 1993. Last year, the company slid in at No. 495.

"Gateway hasn't fully recovered from the dot-com bust," Murphy said.

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