Special Report

The 20 Most Profitable Companies in the World

5. Exxon Mobil Corporation
> Net income from cont. operations: $32.6 billion
> Country: United States
> Industry: Integrated oil and gas
> Revenue: $393.7 billion

ExxonMobil is the second largest company in the United States by income from continuing operations, trailing only Apple. It is also one of the largest companies in the world by market capitalization. The company’s upstream segment which explores for and produces oil, accounted for the bulk of its earnings last year. ExxonMobil derived nearly $26 billion in income from its production activities last year, of which just under half came from equity affiliates — investments whose revenue and costs are not directly included in the income statement. In addition to its highly profitable upstream segment, ExxonMobil notes that it is “the world’s largest refiner and marketer of petroleum products,” and that “our chemical company ranks among the world’s largest.” While low oil prices may hurt the company’s upstream segment, they could also potentially improve margins in its refining business.

4. China Construction Bank Corporation
> Net income from cont. operations: $34.9 billion
> Country: China
> Industry: Diversified banks
> Revenue: $76.9 billion

China Construction Bank is one of four Chinese banks among the eight most profitable companies in the world. Last year, the company reported more than 214 billion yuan in profits, or roughly $35 billion. Helping the bank generate such huge profits, China Construction Bank reported nearly 400 billion yuan in net interest income, or more than $64 billion. In addition to posting larger profits than its U.S. counterparts, the bank also had a return on equity of 21.2%, well above the 13.9% figure for Wells Fargo, America’s most profitable bank. Like other major Chinese banks, China Construction Bank is majority state-owned.

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3. Gazprom OAO.
> Net income from cont. operations: $35.7 billion
> Country: Russia
> Industry: Integrated oil and gas
> Revenue: $156.6 billion

Along with Rosneft, Gazprom is one of two of the world’s 20 most profitable companies based in Russia. Like Rosneft, Gazprom is majority-owned by the Russian government, with government-controlled entities holding just over half of all shares. Gazprom claims to own the largest reserves of natural gas in the world and to account for 13% of global natural gas production. Gazprom also notes that its natural gas transmission network is the largest in the world, with roughly 168,900 kilometers of pipelines. The company is a massive exporter of gas throughout Europe. However, because of this, it is often viewed as a tool of Russian foreign policy in Europe, including in Ukraine.

2. Apple Inc.
> Net income from cont. operations: $37.0 billion
> Country: United States
> Industry: Technology hardware, storage and peripherals
> Revenue: $170.9 billion

Apple may have posted the most extraordinary growth in net income among any of the most profitable companies in the world. In 2004, Apple made $276 million. Last year, that number rose to $37 billion. The company’s recent growth has been fueled in large part by the iPhone. Last quarter, Apple sold more than 35.2 million iPhones, which produced $19.8 billion of the company’s total revenue of $37.4 billion in the period. At least near term, the iPhone will likely remain the key to Apple’s growth. The company sold 10 million units of the new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus in the first weekend they were available. The phones will be available in 69 countries and territories by the end of October. Because of its size, the most important of these markets is likely China, where newest iPhones will be available from all three of the country’s largest wireless carriers.

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1. Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Limited
> Net income from cont. operations: $42.7 billion
> Country: China
> Industry: Diversified banks
> Revenue: $89.4 billion

The Industrial and Commercial Bank of China is the world’s most profitable company, with a net income from continuing operations of more than $42.7 billion last year. However, the profitability of the bank is somewhat dependent on government policy. Notably, in 2010, ICBC marketed a trust product, called “2010 China Credit / Credit Equals Gold #1.” The product was not explicitly guaranteed by the bank. However, after considerable government pressure, the company lent money to an asset manager to bail out customers from the product. Concerns about such shadow financing have been building in China for a long time. While ICBC is massive, with continued growth in assets, it has substantial exposure to such potentially risky products. These products, under certain scenarios, could weigh heavily on profits in the future.

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