Tech is booming, oil is tanking, and the banks are back—for now, anyway. Earlier this week, Fortune published the Fortune 500, its annual list of the best in U.S. business. The 10 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.
Fortune 500 Rank: No. 3
2015 Profits: $53.4 billion
For the second year in a row, Apple (aapl) 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.
2. JP Morgan Chase & Co.
Fortune 500 Rank: No. 23
2015 Profits: $24.4 billion
While JP Morgan Chase (jpm) 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 was a vintage year for Warren Buffett’s investment behemoth. Berkshire Hathaway (brk.a) 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.
4. Wells Fargo
Fortune 500 Rank: No. 27
2015 Profits: $22.9 billion
Despite sustained efforts to boost its commercial banking operations, Wells Fargo (wfc) 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.
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) reported $18.1 billion in profit over 2015—but the enormous margin hasn’t escaped controversy. With Sovaldi currently priced at $1,000 per pill, a bipartisan Senate investigation accused Gilead of maximizing Sovaldi profits at the expense of hepatitis C patients last December.
The New Jersey-based telecom behemoth exceeded Wall Street expectations with a profit surge of 85% over the course of 2015, totaling $17.9 billion. Verizon (vz) attracted 4.5 million new wireless subscribers last year—the hard-earned fruit of sales promotions, tablet deals, and a new mobile video service aimed at attracting teens. The company’s performance was also driven by high customer retention despite stiff competition from lower-cost wireless providers, in addition to steady increases in wireline growth.
Citigroup (c) reported a record $17.2 billion in profits last year—its largest since 2006. But whether or not this leaner Citigroup can muster a similar performance for this fiscal year is uncertain. Citigroup's 136% year-on-year profit increase results from a year of downsizing worker headcount and branches, trimming legal expenses, and selling off $32 billion’s worth of assets—gains which won't be possible to repeat in 2016.
8. Alphabet (Google)
Fortune 500 Rank: No. 36
2015 Profits: $16.3 billion
Google's parent company amassed $16.3 billion in profits—an impressive start for its first year as a holding company. Although Alphabet's (goog) other businesses including Fiber, Verily, Calico, Nest, and X—suffered operating losses amounting to $3.6 billion, Google’s core digital ad business continued to generate enormous profits. Revenues from mobile search as well as YouTube were the key drivers of Alphabet’s earnings this year, amounting to $16.3 billion.
In spite of a 50% year-over-year plunge in profits, the energy giant remains one of America’s most profitable companies. Even as Exxon (xom) has been hit by the worst oil glut to hit the industry in decades, the company dialed back its capital and exploration spending by $7.4 billion. The gas industry heavyweight gleaned $16.2 billion in earnings over 2015.
10. Bank of America
Fortune 500 Rank: No. 26
2015 Profits: $15.9 billion
Like competitor Citi, Bank of America (bac) reaped its biggest earnings in nearly a decade, gaining $15.9 billion in profits over 2015. The bank's extraordinary 229% increase in earnings is in large part because of less legal fees and regulatory fines, which ate up profits the previous year. Loan growth and a 4% jump in card activity also aided the financial giant’s increase in profit.
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