NEW YORK: The top 500 companies in the US posted a combined quarterly loss for the first time since 1935 in the final three months of last year, when they registered a collective net loss of $180 billion (€138bn; £128bn), according to figures from Standard & Poor's, the ratings, risk and investment research firm. 

Based on the results of 98% of companies making up the S&P 500 Index, Standard & Poor's reports that America's top corporations saw total earnings in Q4 2008 fall to $20.70 a share, the worst level for 63 years, when it started collecting this data.

In terms of operating earnings per share, these firms saw earnings decline by two-thirds on the fourth quarter of 2007, while their counterparts on the European Stoxx 600 registered a decline of 31.2%.

Financial firms were among the worst-performing companies overall on this measure, losing some 13 times more money than they made during the same period the previous year.

However, Teun Draaisma, head of European Equity Strategy at Morgan Stanley, warned that other sectors may well see similar slumps in the near future, arguing that many categories "are going to catch up, that's for sure."

Data sourced from Financial Times; additional content by WARC staff