NEW YORK - A tail wind of improving economic conditions blew many major companies to record revenue in 2003, but none was able to knock Wal-Mart Stores off the top of the Fortune 500 list.
With sales of almost $259 billion, the late Sam Walton’s global chain of discount stores topped the list of the nation’s largest publicly traded companies for the third straight year.
The ranking, to be published in the magazine’s April 5 edition, is based on the companies’ sales figures as reported in financial statements for 2003.
Valley companies included No. 223 Avnet of Phoenix with $9.048 billion in sales; No. 326 Allied Waste Industries of Scottsdale, $5.583 billion; and No. 418 Phelps Dodge of Phoenix, $4.143.
Jittery geopolitics kept the price of oil high, helping Exxon Mobil Corp. to post $213 billion in revenue. The 17 percent jump leapfrogged the oil company past General Motors Corp. into the No. 2 spot.
In terms of profits, Exxon Mobil was first with $21.5 billion in earnings. Wal-Mart, which has the lower profit margins of the retail industry, had $9.05 billion in earnings.
Carmakers GM and Ford Motor Co. came in third and fourth respectively, with revenue of $196 billion and $164 billion. General Electric Co., the provider of everything from jet engines to sitcoms, remained at No. 5 with revenue of $134 billion.
Ford and GE held their spots from 2002.
ChevronTexaco Corp. moved up a spot to No. 6, while another refiner, ConocoPhillips, jumped five spots to No. 7. Banking powerhouse Citigroup was No. 8, followed by International Business Machines Corp. and insurer American International Group.
As a group, the 500 companies bounced back from two years of profit declines, posting combined earnings of almost $446 billion on sales totaling $7.5 trillion.
‘‘Making the accomplishment even sweeter was the fact that few observers had expected it,’’ wrote Fortune’s Janice Revell.
Profits grew in 34 of the 39 industries that Fortune tracks. And only 37 of the 500 companies disappointed shareholders with negative returns.
Fortune credited barely-there interest rates, fewer accounting scandals, tax cuts and increased government spending as helping to power the blue chip boom. Although the war in Iraq kept oil prices high all year, the quick end to major fighting gave companies confidence, according to Fortune.