Top 10 companies from the list of top 500 fortune companies
Walmart had a banner 2020, with U.S. e-commerce sales up 79% as pandemic-weary customers consolidated shopping trips to fewer retailers and took advantage of the big-box giant’s strong curbside pickup offering. Its Sam’s Club and international businesses also boomed for similar reasons. With COVID-19 easing, the retailer is looking to protect those market share gains and has embarked on a $14 billion capital expenditure program for 2021, roughly 40% larger than last year’s, even as such spending compromises profits. The program will focus on priorities like an improved supply chain; automation, including in-store robots; grocery order fulfillment; and tech to improve shopping for customers.
Walmart had better watch out. A company this big shouldn’t be able to grow this fast — but Amazon’s 38% revenue growth in 2020 has the Seattle company creeping closer to the top of the Fortune 500. For years a money loser, Amazon earned $21.3 billion in profit on more than $386 billion in annual sales. As the pandemic forced everyone online, the Everything Store won big. The e-tailer’s Prime delivery and entertainment service gained 50 million subscribers year over year, for a total of more than 200 million global customers. CEO Jeff Bezos picked a banner year to step down from leading day-to-day operations; he’ll be handing the title to Andy Jassy, currently boss of the ultra-profitable Amazon Web Services unit, in the second half of 2021.
The pandemic created challenges and opportunities for Apple. CEO Tim Cook had to close stores and send home engineers. But with Apple customers worldwide working and learning from home, iPad and Macintosh computer sales skyrocketed to their highest levels ever. And fiscal-year revenue hit an all-time record too, of $275 billion. That helped Apple’s stock price soar; it gained 80.7% in 2020. As that year wound down, regulators fixed their sights on Apple for potentially abusing its power over the iOS app store. A House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee report in October concluded that Apple “exerts monopoly power” in its app store to harm competition and increase prices for consumers. Meanwhile, testimony in an antitrust lawsuit filed by Fortnite developer Epic Games will likely increase pressure on legislators to limit Apple’s power.
CVS embedded itself on the front lines of the COVID pandemic as one of the central hubs for distributing vaccines to local communities. In the first quarter of 2021 alone, the company, now fully integrated with health insurer Aetna following a mammoth $69 billion acquisition, produced more than $69 billion in revenues. In 2020, revenue grew $12 billion compared to the previous year. Karen Lynch, who became CEO in February 2021, believes that “millions of new customers will engage with CVS Health for the first time through testing and vaccine administration.” The company’s upbeat guidance for 2021, meanwhile, relies on pharmacy sales, rather than retail, to carry the revenue growth.
The Minnesota-based health insurer thrived during the pandemic year, climbing two spots on the list. While widespread layoffs led to a decline in the number of individuals covered by its commercial insurance, the firm’s 6.2% revenue growth was powered by greater enrollment in its Medicare Advantage and Medicaid plans, and by the strong performance of Optum, its sprawling $136 billion health services business. Despite the costs of covering COVID patients, UnitedHealth’s profits jumped 11.3%, owing to members’ decreased use of health services during the pandemic. In an abrupt leadership change, Andrew Witty, who previously ran the company’s Optum division, became CEO in February 2021.
Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway lands at №6 in the rankings for a second straight year. The enormous holding company’s revenues fell slightly last year to $245.5 billion (down 3.6% from 2019), while profits swooned (down 47.8%) to a still heady $42.5 billion. But investors remain bullish about Berkshire. In May 2021, the company’s famously expensive Class A shares hit an unusual record: They traded above $429,496.7295, the highest price Nasdaq’s 32-bit computer system can handle. In its investment portfolio, Berkshire kept its massive stakes in Apple, Bank of America, Coca-Cola, and American Express, though it bailed out of airline stocks and several other bank stocks last year. As for leadership, Buffett, 90, announced in early May 2021 that Greg Abel, who currently leads Berkshire’s noninsurance businesses, would eventually succeed him as CEO, but gave no timeline. Ajit Jain, who heads up the insurance businesses, would be next in line. And what do Berkshire’s famously trend-averse leaders think of special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs) and cryptocurrency, two big themes of this year? At Berkshire’s 2021 annual meeting, Buffett called SPACs “a killer” because they are making economical acquisition targets harder to find. And there’s no love for crypto either. At the same meeting, vice chairman Charlie Munger called Bitcoin “disgusting,” quipping, “Bitcoin reminds me of what Oscar Wilde said about foxhunting. He said it was the pursuit of the uneatable by the unspeakable.”
America’s largest drug distributor — whose fiscal year ended early in the pandemic in March 2020 — recorded a 7.8% revenue increase last year, owing to greater volumes and higher prices of the drugs it delivers. As with its two main competitors, Texas-headquartered McKesson continues to battle legal challenges over its role in the nation’s opioid epidemic. In 2020, the company was selected by the U.S. government as the main distributor for the nation’s COVID vaccines.
The Pennsylvania-based pharmaceutical distributor moves up two spots on this year’s list; its revenues grew 5.7% in its last fiscal year, which ended in September 2020, owing to increased volume and higher prices of the medications it delivers to pharmacies across the country. The company’s veterinary division also recorded solid growth. Like other drug wholesalers, AmerisourceBergen faces legal challenges over its alleged role in America’s opioid epidemic.
Google’s parent company, Alphabet, faced major challenges in 2020. It was attacked for pushing out two A.I. researchers and got hammered during congressional hearings, and it suffered its first-ever slowdown in advertising revenue. Despite all that, it ended the year with record fourth-quarter sales, after its ad business rebounded from a coronavirus-related lull. Alphabet also benefited from YouTube’s rapid growth, and it invested big money in its cloud business. The company wrapped up 2020 with $182.5 billion in revenue, up 13% year over year, and more than $40 billion in profit. But 2021 hasn’t been easy either. Alphabet still faces federal and state antitrust lawsuits, pressure from a newly formed employee union, and scrutiny over problematic content disseminated on YouTube.
The oil and gas giant fell seven places to №10 on the Fortune 500 after a tumultuous year in which global lockdowns shredded energy demand, and prices for oil futures briefly dipped into negative territory. The Irving, Texas–based company swung to a $22 billion annual loss in 2020, its largest ever, from a profit of over $14 billion the previous year; debt jumped too. “The past year presented the most challenging market conditions Exxon Mobil has ever experienced,” CEO Darren Woods said in a statement announcing its 2020 results. Meanwhile, the company said it would launch a new business unit to commercialize low-carbon technology. First up: carbon capture and storage.