NEW YORK -- For the third year in a row, Minneapolis-based Cargill took first place in Forbes magazine's ranking of the nation's top 400 private companies, outpacing the No. 2 company's sales by nearly 60 percent.
The commodities trading company's annual revenues totaled $32.4 billion, earning it the top spot on the third annual Forbes list, which appears in the magazine's Dec. 14 issue.
Safeway Stores, the grocery chain based in Oakland, Calif., that went private last year to evade a hostile takeover, placed a distant second with sales of $20.3 billion.
Continental Grain, a commodities trading firm with headquarters in New York, was listed third by the magazine, which ranks private companies based on their total sales during the most recent fiscal year.
Forbes defined a private company as one that does not have widely traded stock or has fewer than 500 shareholders, generally the cut-off point above which a company must file with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Also included were companies that have filed with the SEC, but whose stock is not available to the public.
Private companies account for about one third of U.S. production, Forbes said. Approximately 7 million U.S. companies are private; only about 10,000 are public.
Fourth on the list of private companies was Koch Industries, with headquarters in Wichita, Kan., and $13 billion in sales; fifth was Apex Oil in St. Louis and $9 billion in sales.
The Forbes list included many familar companies, such as Goldman, Sachs & Co. (ranked 13th with sales of $4.2 billion); Drexel Burnham Lambert Inc. (15th with sales of $4 billion); Levi Strauss (24th with $2.75 billion); Hallmark Cards (38th with $2 billion); Hearst Corp. (49th with $1.7 billion); Reader's Digest Association (62nd with $1.5 billion); Estee Lauder (72nd with $1.35 billion); and E&J Gallo Winery (97th with $1 billion).
Forbes said 80 of the largest American companies from last year's list have been displaced, the largest being Swift Independent, which ranked 12th last year with $4 billion in sales. The Chicago meatpacker became a 50 percent-owned subsidiary of ConAgra.
Thirteen companies from last year's list went private, including Allegheny Ludlum, Western Auto and Edgcomb, Forbes said.
Of this year's top 400 private companies, 69 have proprietors that show up on Forbes list of 400 richest Americans, up from 64 last year.
The 400 companies employ a total of 3.2 million people, up 14.3 percent from last year's 2.8 million. United Parcel Service of Greenwich, Conn. (ranked No. 6 with $8.62 billion in sales) has the most employees: 170,000.
Ranked seventh this year was Mars of McLean, Va. ($7.7 billion in sales); eighth, Bechtel Group of San Francisco ($6.7 billion in sales); ninth, Supermarkets General of Carteret, N.J. ($5.5 billion in sales); and New York-based R.H. Macy ranked tenth ($5.2 billion in sales).
Spalding & Evenflo, a Tampa, Fla.-based sporting goods and baby products company, ranked No. 400, with sales of $300 million.
There are no airlines on the list, only one company that owns a railroad and no electric utilities among the 400. But the list includes 23 oil companies, 22 general and specialty retailers and 21 commercial builders. Eighty-six companies on the list make, sell or trade food.
Some of the top 400 private companies never needed public capital, the magazine said. 'Others used to be public and went private to capitalize on the tax advantages of debt financing. And some simply value the flexibility and convenience of not having to answer to pesky shareholders.'