Each week, I'm ranking the biggest companies that trade on U.S. exchanges based on their size (market capitalization), momentum (total return over the past year), and recent news. Before we get to the rankings, a quick word on a major player.
The general market malaise has now bled into some of the world's most valuable companies. Just 3 of the 10 most valuable companies on U.S.-listed exchanges are now showing positive returns over the past year. It's a sharp contrast to when we started these weekly rankings in early November, with 7 of the 10 most valuable stocks by market cap in positive territory.
Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT), Amazon.com (NASDAQ: AMZN), and Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK-A) are the three giants that find their stocks trading higher than they were a year ago. Berkshire Hathaway is clinging to marginal gains, and that 1.5% gain can turn negative after another rough week of trading. Microsoft and Amazon are clinging to double-digit percentage gains. They remain the beneficiaries of the "flight to quality" mind-set in what is now a thinning pool of life preservers.
With that in mind, let's review this week's updated list of 50 top large-cap stocks, kicking things off with the top 10.
This week's top 10 stocks
10. Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) (new): $414 billion market cap, down 19.2% over the past year.
The leading social networking website has been on the outside looking in over the past few weeks, but with only two other stocks in last week's top 10 moving higher, Facebook bucking the market malaise by inching up in value finds itself back on the list. Facebook still has its challenges ahead, but investors seem to think that the stock may be bottoming out at this point.
9. Pfizer (NYSE: PFE) (new): $253.2 billion, up 20.1%.
The pharmaceuticals giant isn't afraid to share the wealth. Pfizer announced on Friday that it will spend $10 billion in the coming years on share buybacks, on top of the $4.9 billion that it still has to go on its earlier repurchase plan. Pfizer is also boosting its quarterly dividend from $0.34 to $0.36 a share. It's the eighth year in a row that Pfizer has increased its payout. It also stretches its streak of quarterly distributions to 321 declarations. That's more than 80 years for those scoring at home.
8. JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM) (down from 7): $333.5 billion, down 4.2%.
Chase keeps growing its brick-and-mortar presence. JPMorgan Chase opened the first retail branch in Greater Boston on Thursday. It will be the first of 60 retail branches JPMorgan Chase expects to open in New England over the next five years. The company is hoping to raise the bar in retail banking, starting employees at a minimum of $18 an hour, with full-time hires receiving a full benefits package worth an average of $12,000 annually. JPMorgan Chase is also earmarking $3 billion for home and small-business lending in the region. Boston area pro sports teams have been doing a lot of winning in recent years, and now Chase is looking for its chance to score.
7. Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ) (up from 9): $356.7 billion, down 6.1%.
There's a lot of bad press that Johnson & Johnson is battling these days. A Reuters report claims that the company knew for decades that there was asbestos in its baby powder without disclosing the situation with regulators or the public. The report is pulled from the documents of the roughly 11,700 plaintiffs arguing that Johnson & Johnson's talc caused their cancers. Johnson & Johnson is, naturally, defending its position, pointing to several independent studies showing that its baby powder has never contained asbestos or caused cancer. Even if the pharmaceuticals giant emerges victorious, it will still need to restore consumer credibility, something that isn't easy when talking about a product for infants.
6. Visa (NYSE: V): $297.8 billion, up 19.6%.
Visa joins Pfizer as one of the two companies on this list that doesn't command one of the market's 10 largest market caps. Pfizer and Visa are getting the job done by cranking out double-digit percentage gains over the past year. Visa's popularity continues to grow as a payment platform.
5. Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK-A): $492.7 billion, up 1.5%.
Warren Buffett watches over the third-largest company in terms of market cap that's still sporting a positive return over the year, but we're now talking about a meager 1.5% advance over the past 52 weeks. It doesn't help that a lot of Berkshire Hathaway's portfolio is in companies that are coming under selling pressure, though Buffett's skills in both picking stocks as well as actual acquisitions are worthy of market premiums.
4. Alphabet (NASDAQ: GOOG) (NASDAQ: GOOGL): $728.1 billion, down 0.5%.
Facebook is testing out search ads, according to tech blog reports, and it's obviously something for Alphabet's Google to keep watching. Google is differentiated enough from Facebook as a business that it may not seem to be such a big deal, but Wall Street pros see Facebook commanding lower bids for its search result ads -- and that's something that could leave a mark. Bank of America Merrill Lynch analyst Justin Post feels that search ads could generate as much as $5 billion in incremental ad revenue for Facebook. Whether or not it comes at Google's expense is what investors will need to figure out.
3. Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL): $785.3 billion, down 3.9%.
Maybe Charlie Brown will get to kick the football this time. Deadline Hollywood is reporting that Apple is landing a deal with DHX Media to produce new Peanuts content. The deal will include shows, specials, and educational shorts. Apple is building up its arsenal of potential content ahead of a bigger push into streaming video programming. The actual value of the deal isn't public, but it's probably a lot more than Lucy from Peanuts fame charges for advice.
2. Amazon.com (down from 1): $778.4 billion, up 35.6%.
We may be waist-deep into the holiday shopping season, but Amazon's busy on so many other things. It recently conducted a sting operation to bust sellers of used books on its platform that were selling counterfeit textbooks. Amazon is also working with video gaming icon Sega to roll out some of its classic Sega Genesis games for the Amazon Fire TV platform. It's not just Santa keeping his elves busy at Amazon's distribution centers.
1. Microsoft (up from 2): $814 billion, up 25.2%.
Microsoft is back on top as one of the few megacaps to move higher this past week. A report earlier in the week claimed that it was in talks to acquire freelancing marketplace Upwork. Microsoft isn't afraid to cut big checks for the right tech pieces, but it would seem odd that it would make a play for a company just weeks after Upwork went public -- especially since Upwork is trading at a premium to its early October IPO price of $15.
The rank and file
We'll get to No. 11 through No. 50 in a moment, but first, let's look at some other Top 50 stocks that are making waves -- for better or worse.
The New York Attorney General is suing Walmart (NYSE: WMT) and importer LaRose Industries for stocking a product line that contains lead levels that are up to 10 times higher than the federal limit. The Cra-Z-Jewelz kits are no longer being stocked in store, but Walmart and other retailers could be liable for stiff penalties if they lose this legal battle.
McDonald's (NYSE: MCD) may never share the "junk food" tag, but it's trying to make the Golden Arches less of a target for detractors. The world's largest burger chain announced on Wednesday that it plans to dramatically reduce the use of antibiotics in its global beef supply chain. McDonald's says it's making this move to help preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics in humans as well as for the sake of animal health in the future.
Stocks 11 through 50
11. UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH): $255 billion, up 19.8%.
12. Alibaba (NYSE: BABA): $383.2 billion market cap, down 13.2%.
13. Verizon (NYSE: VZ): $235.9 billion market cap, up 9.1%.
14. Cisco (NASDAQ: CSCO): $206 billion, up 20.9%.
15. Mastercard (NYSE: MA): $201.7 billion, up 28.6%.
16. Merck & Co. (NYSE: MRK): $198.9 billion, up 36.5%.
17. ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM): $319.9 billion, down 8.8%.
18. Walmart: $266.8 billion, down 5.4%.
19. Bank of America (NYSE: BAC): $240.3 billion, down 14.8%.
20. Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG): $240.8 billion, up 6.2%.
21. Intel (NASDAQ: INTC): $218.4 billion, up 10.6%.
22. Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO): $210 billion, up 7.2%
23. Boeing (NYSE: BA): $181 billion, up 8.5%.
24. Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX): $116.4 billion, up 40.8%.
25. Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE: RDS-A): $242.2 billion, down 4.9%.
26. Novartis (NYSE: NOV): $201.7 billion, up 3.8%.
27. Walt Disney Co. (NYSE: DIS): $167 billion, up 1.5%.
28. PetroChina (NYSE: PTR): $194.8 billion, down 0.7%.
20. Chevron (NYSE: CVX): $217.5 billion, down 4.8%.
30. Home Depot (NYSE: HD): $194.6 billion, down 5.4%.
31. Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA): $165.3 billion, down 7.1%.
32. Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC): $219.1 billion, down 21.4%.
33. McDonald's: $141.3 billion, up 5.9%.
34. Oracle (NYSE: ORCL): $176.6 billion, down 7.2%.
35. PepsiCo (NASDAQ: PEP): $160.8 billion, down 3.5%.
36. Adobe (NASDAQ: ADBE): $112.3 billion, up 31.4%.
37. Abbott Laboratories (NYSE: ABT): $124.3 billion, up 29.3%.
38. Eli Lilly (NYSE: LLY): $110 billion, up 29.4%.
39. Nike (NYSE: NKE): $115.2 billion, up 12.4%.
40. Salesforce.com (NYSE: CRM): $104.8 billion, up 31.5%.
41. China Mobile (NYSE: CHL): $194.5 billion, down 2.6%.
42. Medtronic (NYSE: MDT): $125.9 billion, up 14.5%.
43. BHP Billiton (NYSE: BHP): $123.7 billion, up 17%.
44. Amgen (NASDAQ: AMGN): $122.4 billion, up 9.8%.
45. PayPal (NASDAQ: PYPL): $101.2 billion, up 15.7%.
46. Union Pacific (NYSE: UNP): $105 billion, up 10.4%.
47. AstraZeneca (NYSE: AZN): $97.6 billion, up 25.5%
48. Costco (NASDAQ: COST): $91.2 billion, up 11%.
49. AT&T (NYSE: T): $219.9 billion, down 19.9%.
50. Petrobras (NYSE: PBR): $83.5 billion, up 53.6%.
Who's in and who's out
It's not just pumpkin spice lattes that go in and out of seasonal menus. Starbucks (NASDAQ: SBUX) bows out of the top 50 this week. It was the smallest of the 50 companies on our list, and with its trailing return buckling into the single digits -- up a still respectable 9.5% over the past year -- it clears the path for PayPal's return. The online transaction enabler commands a larger market cap and a superior 15.7% return.
We also have a shift in the pharmaceuticals space, as the U.K.'s AstraZeneca bumps fellow Brit GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE: GSK) from the list. AstraZeneca now commands a larger market cap and stronger stock return over the past year than GlaxoSmithKline. Try saying the name of either of these two companies five times fast.
One to watch
American Tower (NYSE: AMT) is one of the scrappy companies thriving just below the 50 names on our current list. The leading operator of cell towers commands a market cap of $73.4 billion, below all of the companies that made the cut this week. However, its 16% gain over the past year would make it one of the few companies with double-digit percentage increases.
American has a fleet of 170,000 cell towers deployed worldwide, and it rents that space to wireless carriers, broadcasters, and anyone that needs to boost a signal. Despite its moniker, American Tower is more than just an American enterprise. Nearly 130,000 of those towers are rising internationally. American Tower is also structured as a REIT, providing its investors with a piece of the action as earnings are returned to stakeholders through quarterly distributions. Folks aren't putting away their smartphones anytime soon, so American Tower's dominant market position should continue to grow over time.
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John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Teresa Kersten, an employee of LinkedIn, a Microsoft subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Rick Munarriz owns shares of Apple, AT&T, China Mobile, Netflix, and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Adobe Systems, Alphabet (A shares), Alphabet (C shares), Amazon, American Tower, Apple, Facebook, Mastercard, National Oilwell Varco, Netflix, PayPal Holdings, Salesforce.com, Starbucks, and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of Johnson & Johnson, Medtronic, Microsoft, Oracle, and Visa and has the following options: long January 2020 $150 calls on Apple, short January 2020 $155 calls on Apple, long January 2019 $80 calls on American Tower, short January 2019 $135 calls on American Tower, short February 2019 $185 calls on Home Depot, long January 2020 $110 calls on Home Depot, short January 2019 $140 calls on Johnson & Johnson, short December 2018 $52 calls on Oracle, long January 2020 $30 calls on Oracle, and short January 2019 $82 calls on PayPal Holdings. The Motley Fool recommends Amgen, Comcast, Costco Wholesale, DHX Media, Home Depot, Nike, Union Pacific, UnitedHealth Group, Upwork, and Verizon Communications. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.