1. Exxon Mobil
Fortune rank: 1
2008 profit: $45.22 Billion
Exxon posted its fourth-straight year of record profits, enduring wild swings in oil prices and a worldwide drop in demand in 2008. Falling oil prices in the latter half of 2008 hurt its oil production arm.
But that was partially offset by Exxon's refinery business, which profited as the declining cost of crude made it cheaper to produce gasoline and diesel. The world's biggest publicly traded company spent $26.1 billion on exploration and capital in 2008, up 25% from a year before, as it tried to reverse production declines of past years.
Fortune rank: 2
2008 profit: $23.93 Billion
Chevron offset the sharp drop in oil and gas prices in the second half of 2008 by bolstering its refinery business, where profits increased 10-fold in the fourth quarter.
The oil company, second-largest in the U.S. behind Exxon, posted a record annual profit of $23.9 billion even as its oil and gas production fell each quarter during the year.
Fortune rank: 3
2008 profit: $17.68 Billion
Microsoft, a key barometer for the tech industry, posted 26% higher profits in 2008 on hot sales of its Xbox 360 video game system, servers, and business tools.
Though its overtures for Yahoo were rebuffed during the year, Microsoft is making ambitious pushes this year into online advertising and search to compete with Google.
4. GE (General Electric)
Fortune rank: 4
2008 profit: $17.41 Billion
CEO Jeff Immelt called 2008 "brutal.'' GE's earnings were dragged down 22% by losses in its biggest business: GE Capital.
Once an earnings generator, the financial services segment's missteps in residential mortgages and commercial real estate forced GE to get a capital infusion from Warren Buffett and cut its dividend.
5. Wal-Mart Stores
Fortune rank: 5
2008 profit: $13.40 Billion
The combination of Wal-Mart's roll-back prices and consumers hurt by the highest unemployment rates since 1993 drove profits up 5% at the world's biggest retailer.
The company's stock returned 18% in 2008, making it the top performer in the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Wal-Mart looks poised to benefit from a lingering recession in 2009, recently revamped stores and hundreds of grocery products in its Great Value line.
6. Johnson & Johnson
Fortune rank: 6
2008 profit: $12.94 Billion
Profits at the world's biggest health care products maker were driven by sales of over-the-counter brands such as Listerine, Neutrogena and Aveeno.
The drugmaking unit's diversified portfolio covered declines in its prescription drug sales. And 2009 prospects look good. In the Big Pharma group, J&J's portfolio has some of the least exposure to patent losses and generic competition.
Fortune rank: 7
2008 profit: $12.87 Billion
Exclusive contracts for smartphones like Apple's iPhone and Blackberry's Bold led to 8% profit growth at the country's No. 2 wireless carrier.
AT&T had twice as many smartphones in service than its competitors in 2008. Expensive data plans for the phones grew the company's wireless business revenue by 53% to $10.5 billion.
8. IBM (International Business Machines)
Fortune rank: 8
2008 profit: $12.33 Billion
IBM's emphasis of software, services, and open networks over PCs and hard drives paid off: Profit margins rose for the fifth consecutive year, reaching 44.1% in 2008, the highest in more than a decade.
Big Blue's profits reached $12.3 billion as overseas growth continued in Europe. Projects included a technology system for Norway's largest food supplier that traces meat through the supply chain to the grocery store shelf.
9. P&G (Procter & Gamble)
Fortune rank: 9
2008 profit: $12.07 Billion
The consumer giant behind Crest, Tide, and Pampers continued CEO A.G. Lafley's push for innovation. Profits rose 17%, the third year of double-digit increases led by overseas growth.
Pampers diapers posted some of P&G's strongest sales increases, and became the first brand to reach $8 billion in sales in a year.
Fortune rank: 10
2008 profit: $8.33 Billion
HP continued cutting costs and growing its lead in the PC market in 2008 with hip offerings like its Pavilion series. Profits rose 15% to $8.3 billion as HP passed IBM in sales for the second year.
Led by CEO Mark Hurd, HP acquired IT outsourcing firm Electronic Data Systems for $13 billion and announced it would cut more than 24,000 jobs in the next three years.