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Polls, lists rank Microsoft No. 1

The software giant zips past Intel to become the "best performing company" financially, according to a ranking by Business Week.

Microsoft today zipped past Intel to become the "best performing company" financially, according to a ranking by Business Week, while American icons Nike and Coca-Cola slipped down the list.

High-technology firms Dell, Cisco Systems, Intel, and Compaq Computer rounded out the top five on Business Week's list, a reminder of the industry's growing clout in the U.S. economy. Oracle tumbled from No. 11 to No. 102 in the annual ranking, however.

Despite a widening federal investigation into alleged anticompetitive MSFT stock chart practices, including scrutiny on Capitol Hill, Microsoft continues to win praise in some circles. "America loves Microsoft," an Internet survey and phone poll released in January by Fortune magazine claimed. Of those polled, 73 percent think Microsoft is "one of America's great businesses."

The Business Week ranking concludes that "for every dollar in sales, Microsoft pulls out 29.7 cents in profits--a spectacular margin that grew by 13 percent over the year before. That's almost four times the average for its industry, and better than all but four other companies in the entire S&P 500." The annual Business Week issue will be released Friday.

"Whether you think Microsoft anticompetitive or simply ultracompetitive," Business Week writes, "under [chief executive Bill] Gates's leadership it has racked up a record of annual profit and revenue increases that is the envy of corporate America."

Like Business Week and Fortune, Forbes also releases annual lists that rank U.S. companies based on their financial performance. "To determine the ranking, every company in the S&P 500 is graded on the basis of top-line revenue growth, earnings growth, and total returns over one and three years, plus net margins and return on equity," Business Week states.

Nike fell from No. 7 to No. 64, largely because of the economic slowdown in Asia. Coca-Cola, hit by a strong dollar on its overseas sales, dropped from No. 25 to No. 119. One of Gates's best friends, fellow billionaire Warren Buffett, is a significant stakeholder in Coke.