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Once again Merck is the most admired large corporation in America, according to Fortune magazine, the fourth consecutive year the giant pharmaceuticals company has taken the top spot in Fortune's annual popularity poll.

Philip Morris was named the second most admired business, while California's Gibraltar Financial Corp. was the least admired company.Fortune's annual rankings of whom do you love/whom do you hate in corporate America is contained in the magazine's Jan. 29 issue, available on newsstands Wednesday. For its eighth annual Corporate Reputations Survey, Fortune polled more than 8,000 top executives, outside directors and financial analysts on 305 companies in 32 industry groups.

Fortune said Merck fended off the biggest challenge ever to its No. 1 spot from Philip Morris, which won top place in two of the eight survey categories.

Rubbermaid dropped from its second place on last year's list to take the No. 3 spot. Procter & Gamble leaped nine places to the No. 4 spot. The 3M Company fell from its third-place position last year to become No. 5 on this year's list.

Pepsico rose a notch to tie the retailing wizards at Wal-Mart for the No. 6 spot. Pepsi and Wal-Mart are followed by two other beverage companies: Coca-Cola (No. 8) and Anheuser-Busch (No. 9).

"The presence of three beverage competitors on the list is a tribute to their ability to gain global market share without choking off profit growth," said Fortune. In the No. 10 spot is Du Pont, a newcomer to the top 10.

At the losing end of the scoreboard, in ascending order after Gibraltar, are Wang Laboratories, Control Data, Meritor Financial Group, Texas Air, LTV, National Steel, United Merchants & Manufacturers, K-H Corp., and Unisys. New to the bottom 10 are Wang, United Merchants, Unisys and K-H.

The most admired companies in the 32 industry groups are: Aerospace, Boeing; Apparel, Liz Claiborne; Beverages, Pepsico; Building materials, Corning; Chemicals, Du Pont; Commercial banking, J.P. Morgan; Computers, Hewlett-Packard; Diversified financial, American Express; Diversified services, AT Electronics, General Electric; Food, Sara Lee; Forest products, Kimberly-Clark.

Furniture, Herman Miller; Industrial and farm equipment, Deere; Life insurance, Northwestern Mutual Life; Metals, Alcoa; Metal products, Illinois Tool Works; Mining and crude oil production, Burlington Resources; Motor vehicles and parts, Ford Motor; Petroleum refining, Shell Oil; Publishing and printing, Berkshire Hathaway; Retailing, Wal-Mart; Rubber products, Rubbermaid; Savings institutions, Great Western Financial; Scientific and photographic equipment, 3M.

Soaps and cosmetics, Procter & Gamble; Textiles, Shaw Industries; Tobacco, Philip Morris; Transportation, United Parcel Service; Transportation equipment, Trinity Industries; Utilities, BellSouth.