- The Washington Times - Monday, April 4, 2005

NEW YORK (AP) — Wal-Mart Stores Inc. retained the top spot in Fortune magazine’s 2005 ranking of the 500 largest publicly traded U.S. companies, but soaring commodity prices led to big gains in revenue and profits for oil and metal producers.

Wal-Mart was first on the Fortune 500 for the fourth straight year, with 2004 sales of more than $288.189 billion, up about 11 percent from 2003.

Exxon Mobil Corp. ranked second once again with $270.772 billion in sales, up a stunning 27 percent from the year before as the price of oil rose above $50 a barrel and gasoline sold for more than $2 a gallon.

The company also topped Fortune’s profits charts for the second year in a row with $25.3 billion in earnings, breaking Ford Motor Co.’s record from 1998.

Time Warner Inc.’s Fortune magazine began publishing the sales rankings in 1954, and since then only Wal-Mart, General Motors Corp. and Exxon Mobil have topped the lists. The latest annual rankings are included in the edition arriving at newsstands April 11.

The only change in the top 10 came as IBM slipped a rung to No. 10 with $96.293 billion in sales and American International Group Inc. — now facing a government probe for improper accounting — edged up to No. 9 from No. 10 with $98.610 billion.

Thirty-eight of the 42 industry sectors tracked by Fortune posted increased profits, while electronics and electrical equipment, pharmaceuticals, telecommunications and airlines saw profits decline.

With China’s surging demand for raw materials and commodity prices reaching new heights, metal producers witnessed the most impressive profit growth over the past year, with gains of more than 800 percent.

“If a company’s taking stuff out of the ground, it was making money,” Fortune writer Janice Revell said.

Aluminum company Alcoa Inc. at No. 79 saw a 40 percent rise in profits, while copper miner Phelps Dodge Corp. increased its recorded profits elevenfold.

“We’re seeing oldfangled, low-glamour companies at the forefront,” Ms. Revell said. She added that the housing sector saw big gains as a result of low interest rates last year, allowing some new home builders to make the list.

The list’s most notable debut was media conglomerate News Corp. at No. 98. The company, owned by Rupert Murdoch, moved its headquarters from Australia to the United States last year and recently increased its ownership of Fox Entertainment Group Inc.

Meanwhile, glaringly absent from the upper echelons of the Fortune 500 was insurer Fannie Mae, which ranked at No. 20 last year but failed to file 2004 financial statements because of accounting problems.

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