NEW YORK — After a six-year absence from the top spot, General Motors is again No. 1 on the famed Fortune 500 list of biggest U.S. industrial corporations, beating out petroleum giant Exxon, which has been hurt by the declining market for oil.
Fortune magazine said Monday that GM's revenue last year of $96.4 billion, an all-time high, easily lifted the auto maker over New York-based Exxon, which had revenue of $86.7 billion and was bumped into second place.
The Time Inc. business publication, which first put out the list in 1955, compiles it on the basis of annual revenue. GM held the No. 1 spot for the first 20 years, but Exxon dethroned it in 1975, when oil companies were profiting immensely from the energy crisis.
GM regained the title in 1978, held it in 1979, dropped to No. 2 in 1980, slid to No. 3 behind Exxon and Mobil in 1981 and 1982, moved back to No. 2 in 1983 and remained there in 1984.
In an advance release of the list's annual publication in its April 28 issue, Fortune said the latest ranking reflected serious troubles in U.S. industry, which has been struggling because of fierce foreign competition.
Overall sales advanced only 2.8%, less than the inflation rate, and profit sank 19.1%, the worst performance since the 1982 recession, Fortune said.
"Unable to wring satisfactory returns from their traditional businesses last year, many of the 500 companies put efforts into rearranging their existing resources and buying new ones," it said.
At least 173 companies repurchased significant amounts of their own stock, the magazine said, while 14 bought other companies on the list.
The magazine said 11 others were transformed by leveraged buy-outs. The depressed oil market forced most big U.S. petroleum companies down in rank, with the exception of Mobil, which retained the No. 3 spot because of its acquisition of Superior Oil, and Chevron, which moved from No. 11 to No. 7 because of its takeover of Gulf Oil. Texaco was bumped from No. 5 to No. 6 by IBM, Amoco fell from 10th to 11th and Shell Oil fell from 13th to 14th. In addition, lower revenue from Du Pont's Conoco subsidiary pushed it from No. 7 to No. 9.
Elsewhere among the top 10, Ford Motor remained at No. 4, American Telephone & Telegraph repeated at No. 8 and General Electric fell to No. 10, down from No. 9.
Other notables included 4-year-old Compaq Computer, which made the list in record time, debuting at No. 463. Apple Computer, now No. 192, was the former record holder, making the list in 1982, five years after its founding.
In a surprise, furniture companies led the list in terms of total return to investors, helped by newcomers Herman Miller, No. 469, maker of quality office furniture, and Hon Industries, No. 478, which also makes office furnishings.
To qualify as a Fortune 500 industrial, at least 50% of a company's sales must be derived from manufacturing or mining. The magazine puts out a separate list of the top 500 U.S. service companies and a composite list of the world's biggest companies.
FORTUNE'S TOP 20
1985 sales Previous (billions of Company rank dollars) 1. General Motors 2 $96.37 2. Exxon 1 86.67 3. Mobil 3 55.96 4. Ford Motor 4 52.77 5. IBM 6 50.06 6. Texaco 5 46.30 7. Chevron 11 41.74 8. AT&T 8 34.91 9. Du Pont 7 29.48 10. General Electric 9 28.26 11. Amoco 10 27.22 12. Atlantic Richfield 12 22.36 13. Chrysler 14 21.26 14. Shell Oil 13 20.31 15. U.S. Steel 15 18.43 16. United Technologies 16 15.75 17. Phillips Petroleum 17 15.68 18. Tenneco 19 15.40 19. Occidental Petroleum 18 14.53 20. Sun 20 13.77