Top US companies post third-largest profit gain in history of Fortune 500

NEW YORK — Wal-Mart Stores Inc. remains atop the Fortune 500 list even as it struggled to keep its U.S. customers coming in the door.

NEW YORK — Wal-Mart Stores Inc. remains atop the Fortune 500 list even as it struggled to keep its U.S. customers coming in the door.

The world’s largest retailer held onto the top spot for the second year in a row thanks to gains at its international stores. The company’s U.S. division has had seven straight quarters of declines in revenue at stores open at least a year compared with the same periods the year before.

Fortune Magazine, which ranked companies based on revenue for 2010, released its annual list on Thursday. It was filled with examples of how rising fuel prices are affecting the economy. Wal-Mart was followed by the three largest American oil companies: Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp. and ConocoPhillips.

Fortune said that America’s top companies profited by boosting productivity and cutting jobs. Like Wal-Mart, they also relied on growing operations overseas. The strategy helped them increase earnings 81 per cent to $318 billion. That’s the third-largest combined profit gain in the list’s history. The largest jump in profit came in 2004, when Fortune 500 companies reported a more than six-fold increase in earnings. Companies that made last year’s list increased profits by more than four-fold.

Fannie Mae jumped from 81st last year to round out this year’s top 5 companies, though the rise was mostly due to new accounting rules and continued support from the federal government. The housing finance giant also faces an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission, which is looking into statements that former CEO Daniel Mudd made about the mortgage giant’s exposure to risky loans.

The top 10 companies also included General Electric Co., Berkshire Hathaway Inc., General Motors Co., Bank of America Corp. and Ford Motor Corp.

Ten companies cracked the list for the first time this year. Nineteen others, including Chrysler and Fidelity National Information Services, returned to the Fortune 500 this year.

The list now includes just one newspaper company, Gannett Co. Inc., at No. 415. A decade ago, five newspaper companies were among the top 500.

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On the Web: http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/fortune500/2011/

Chris Kahn can be reached at http://twitter.com/ChrisKahnAP

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