- The Washington Times - Monday, April 3, 2006

NEW YORK — Skyrocketing energy prices propelled Exxon Mobil Corp. to the top of the 2006 Fortune 500 list and consigned Wal-Mart Stores Inc. 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 revenues. Exxon Mobil raked in $340 billion in revenue, a 25.5 percent increase from 2004, and had $36.1 billion in profits — the most by any U.S. company in history.

Exxon Mobil last appeared at No. 1 in 2001. Only Wal-Mart, Exxon Mobil and General Motors Corp. — the top three this year — have topped the list since its inception in 1954.

Wal-Mart had $315.654 billion in revenue, a 9.5 percent 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.

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 Chevron Corp. and ConocoPhillips saw their revenues jump last year, by 28 percent and 37 percent, 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 Motor Co. slipped to fifth place from No. 4. GM’s revenues decreased nearly one-half percent to $192.604 billion, while Ford’s rose less than 3 percent to $177.21 billion.

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

International Business Machines Corp. held on to the last spot in the top 10, although its revenues fell by 5.4 percent to $91.134 billion.

Eleven Washington-area companies made the list, with Bethesda defense contractor Lockheed Martin Corp. ranking the highest, at No. 52.

In general, 2005 treated the top U.S. companies to big revenues and profits. The 500 brought in a combined $9.1 trillion in revenue, a 10.2 percent increase from last year, and $610 billion in profits — 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 percent, 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.”

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 Co. was profitable. Ten of the 16 motor vehicle companies were profitable, but big losses from GM and Delphi Corp. 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 percent increase in profits, prompting the magazine to create a new industry category. The most notable newcomers to the 500 fell into that category, with Google Inc. debuting at No. 353, Yahoo Inc. at No. 412 and EBay Inc. at No. 458. The three combined for $5.7 billion in profits.

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