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Four Asia-based firms have been ranked among the world’s 50 “most admired” companies this year, according to the survey organizer Fortune magazine.

Japan’s Toyota Motor Corp. topped the Asian companies in the list, winning the 11th place, the U.S.-based fortnightly global business magazine said.

Sony Corp. of Japan came in 13th, Singapore Airlines took the 21st spot, and Honda Motor Co. of Japan gained the 26th position.

The four companies, which were also named to Fortune’s top list last year, all have improved their rankings in this year’s survey based on voting by more than 10,000 directors and executives at 345 companies around the world.

The top three companies on the latest global list are Wal-Mart Stores Inc., General Electric Co. and Microsoft Corp., all from the United States.

Of the 50 most admired companies in the world, 26 are from the U.S. while 10 are from Europe, a surge from last year’s list, which had only three European firms.

“The growing respect for European and Asian companies is also, fundamentally, a product of the smaller world that corporate executives live in,” Fortune said.

“More non-U.S. companies made the list simply because more of them are on the international radar. And familiarity has bred admiration,” the magazine said.

It also noted former favorites AOL Time Warner Inc. and Duke Energy Corp. have been dropped from the rankings, reflecting the fallout from a spate of corporate governance scandals last year.

In a separate listing for most admired companies in Japan, Toyota Motor was No. 1, followed by Honda Motor, Sony, Takenaka Corp. and Canon Inc.

The rankings in the Asian region excluding Japan saw Singapore Airlines come in first and Samsung Electronics Co. from South Korea second.

Two Australian companies — News Corp. and BHP Billiton Ltd. — were respectively ranked third and fourth, whereas China Telecommunications Corp. got fifth place.

Fortune said China Telecom made the biggest jump of any of the companies surveyed in the overall scores.

“The state-owned monopoly was split in two last year and listed on the New York and Hong Kong stock exchanges, a cultural revolution its competitors obviously consider promising,” the magazine said.

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