The 5 most profitable of the 500 largest companies form an exceptional cross-section of the economy. Despite a tempestuous 2015 for American business, these revenue generators have mastered the art of cutting costs and making money.
5. Gilead Sciences
2015 Profits: $18.1 billion
Headquartered in Foster City, Calif., this pharmaceutical giant is best known for its blockbuster hepatitis C drugs, Harvoni and Sovaldi. Sales for the two treatments alone amounted to $19.1 billion last year, comprising nearly two-thirds of the company’s annual revenue. Gilead (GILD, -0.33%) reported $18.1 billion in profit over 2015—but the enormous margin hasn’t escaped controversy.
4. Wells Fargo
2015 Profits: $22.9 billion
Despite sustained efforts to boost its commercial banking operations, Wells Fargo (WFC, +0.32%) reported a generally flat year from the perspective of profit. 2014 profits of $23.1 billion dipped a fraction of a percentage to $22.9 billion in 2015. In spite of a lackluster annual performance, the San Francisco-based corporation has poised itself for big growth. Last October, the banking giant acquired GE Capital’s commercial lending and leasing businesses for the price of $32 billion.
3. Berkshire Hathaway
2015 was a vintage year for Warren Buffett’s investment behemoth. Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A, +0.48%) surpassed 2014’s record profits of $19.9 billion with last year’s earnings of $24.1 billion—a 21% climb. While $7 billion of the earnings came from a one-time pretax gain tied to last year’s merger of Kraft Foods and Heinz, profits were also bolstered by robust returns from Berkshire’s insurance units, manufacturing businesses, and the railroad BNSF.
2. JP Morgan Chase & Co.
2015 Profits: $24.4 billion
While JP Morgan Chase (JPM, +0.50%) overtook Bank of America in 2011 for the title of the nation’s biggest bank, the New York-based colossus now adds another title to its collection. Last year, JP Morgan posted record earnings of $24.4 billion, overtaking Wells Fargo to become the nation’s most profitable bank. The bank’s 12% year-over-year profit growth has been propelled by strong earnings from consumer banking, as well as solid gains in investment banking.
2015 Profits: $53.4 billion
For the second year in a row, Apple (AAPL, +1.06%) leads the Fortune 500’s 10 most profitable companies at number one. But this Silicon Valley tech titan has never been one to rest on its laurels. In just one year, the company’s profits rose by 35%. And though iPad sales declined in 2015, Apple reported record-breaking iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s sales last September—selling 13 million devices during its opening weekend alone. All gadgets considered, Apple reported historic profits with $53.4 billion in earnings.
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