Will Apple be more profitable than Exxon Mobil in 2012?

Personal electronics giant headed for better year than oil company, according to 24/7 Wall St.

Apple has been on a huge roll in recent years, so much so that in 2010 it blew by Microsoft to become the most valuable technology company in the world.

But acing out another tech company is child's play. If you really want to run with the big dogs, you gotta compare favorably to companies in the world's most lucrative, gun-to-your-head businesses, energy and finance.

For a brief time last August, Apple actually passed the mighty Exxon Mobil (NYSE: XOM) to become the most valuable publicly traded company on the planet.

It didn't last long. Exxon Mobil is back on top with a market capitalization of $$417 billion compared to Apple's $399 billion.

A healthy market cap is all well and good, but what shareholders care about even more is the bottom line. In other words, profitable is much better than large. Both are great, but most investors buy shares with an eye toward generating a healthy return on their investment, not to boost a company's market cap.

And according to investment website 24/7 Wall St., Apple is poised to generate more profits in 2012 than even Exxon Mobil.

The site forecasts 2012 earnings of $33 billion for Apple on revenue of $160 billion, increases of 60% and 48%, respectively.

It expects Exxon Mobil, the world's largest oil company, to show 2012 earnings of $28 billion -- down 3% from last year but still good enough for second place overall -- and revenue of $450 billion, a drop of 7%.

Apple’s earnings and sales growth continue to defy gravity. Apple should continue to hold wide leads over the competition, espcially in the smartphone and tablet PC industry. Apple is able to charge a premium for its products over those of its competitors like Samsung and HTC, which drives its impressive gross margins. Apple also stands to benefit from its current low market penetration in developing nations such as China, which will improve as 3G networks are more broadly deployed.

All probably true. But Apple's not the only tech company for which 24/7 Wall St. sees a big year. It ranks AT&T third in prospective annual profit ($22 billion), Microsoft fourth ($23 billion; yes, I know that's higher than AT&T's forecast profit) and IBM eighth ($16 billion).

As for the many financial firms that usually crowd the top of the list, 24/7 Wall St. writes, "The majority of banks and investment houses will suffer earnings declines because of poor trading results and bad loans."

Fear not for them, however, for they are "too big to fail" and will always bounce back because of their free-market pluck and limitless government handouts. It's an unbeatable combination.

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