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What the Fortune 500 Says About the U.S. Economy

Good lists of stocks are a powerful tool because they are both informative and digestible. And there are fewer lists more iconic than the Fortune 500 ranking of U.S. corporations by total revenue.

The latest grouping is fresh off the presses, and unsurprisingly features regular favorites near the top — Walmart (NYSE:WMT), Exxon Mobil (NYSE:XOM) and Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), just to name a few. But what’s interesting about the list is how it has changed over the years, with a certain group of companies climbing steadily and others falling by the wayside.

Here’s what the latest Fortune 500 rankings say about the U.S. economy and stock market:

Energy Is Rock Solid: Three of the top four stocks are in the oil business — Exxon, Chevron (NYSE:CVX) and Phillips 66 (NYSE:PSX). Though demand has been soft globally, it has been constant. And even though crude oil prices have been rangebound between $80 and $110 for years, that hasn’t unseated these dominant energy players.

Healthcare Rising: While nothing is certain in life, getting old and seeing your body break down certainly is. And the demographic impact of the baby boomers continues to fuel healthcare stocks, providing reliable revenue to entrenched players like CVS Caremark (NYSE:CVS), McKesson (NYSE:MCK), UnitedHealth Group (NYSE:UNH) and Cardinal Health (NYSE:CAH). All four of these giants top $100 billion in annual revenue and make the top 20 — and all four have stayed steady or improved their rank on the Fortune 500 list over last year.

Financials Still Struggle: Financial companies are crucial to the American economy. Those engaging in banking, insurance or capital markets make up 12 of the top 44 spots on the Fortune 500. However, many continue to struggle to get their swagger back even half a decade removed from the mortgage meltdown. Consider that Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) slipped from No. 13 to No. 21, JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM) fell from No. 16 to No. 18 and Citigroup (NYSE:C) dropped from No. 20 to No. 26. Considering the much better balance sheets and improved mortgage lending in the last year or so, this is noteworthy.

Of course, revenue is the top line, but the bottom line is in many ways much more important to investors. Consider that the No. 2 stock on the list, Exxon, is up just 7% in the last year, delivering less than half the profits of the S&P 500 in the same period. Clearly sales aren’t everything.

However, it’s important to know where the money is going and try to plot trends for how consumers and businesses are spending.

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Jeff Reeves is the editor of InvestorPlace.com and the author of “The Frugal Investor’s Guide to Finding Great Stocks.” Write him at editor@investorplace.com or follow him on Twitter via @JeffReevesIP. As of this writing, he did not own a position in any of the stocks named here.

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