NEW YORK — The 500 largest US companies piled up record profits last year, despite a lackluster economy, and energy giant ExxonMobil ousted Wal-Mart as the biggest revenue maker, Fortune magazine said Monday.
The combined earnings of the Fortune 500 corporations rose 16 percent from 2010 to a record high of $825 billion in 2011, the magazine said.
"Given the sluggish recovery and a strapped consumer, you'd expect to see corporate America trudging along, not racing for glory," Fortune's senior editor-at-large, said.
"In fact, the Fortune 500 are thriving as a group. Unlike the US economy, they've shown quicksilver agility, rapidly shifting their product mix and producing more goods at little new cost."
The previous record of $785 billion was set in 2006, amid robust economic growth and before the subprime mortgage crisis in the housing market touched off global financial turmoil.
After that tailspin in late 2008, companies slashed costs, particularly labor, the magazine noted.
And despite a recovery from deep recession that ended in mid-June 2009, companies have been reluctant to hire more workers, who account for almost 70 percent of their total costs.
"Today the Fortune 500 employs 25.8 million people worldwide, up by less than 1.0 percent since 2007," Fortune said.
In the United States the Fortune 500 employs nearly 17 million workers and indirectly affects millions more in companies that support the Fortune 500.
Oil and gas behemoth ExxonMobil grabbed first place on the Fortune 500 for the 13th time, with $453 billion in revenues, edging out Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer.
Exxon also led the Fortune 500 with $41.1 billion in earnings, a hefty 35 percent rise over 2010.
Wal-Mart earnings fell four percent to nearly $16 billion.
Exxon and Wal-Mart have traded the top two positions six times during the past decade.
Energy groups Chevron and CononcoPhillips took third- and fourth-place, respectively.
General Motors, the biggest US automaker still partly owned by the government after a $50 billion bailout and a 2009 bankruptcy restructuring, jumped three spots to number five.
Rounding out the rest of the top 10 Fortune 500 were, in descending order, General Electric, Berkshire Hathaway, Fannie Mae, Ford Motor and Hewlett-Packard.
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