World's Most Valuable Brands: Brand Finance (PHOTOS)

Brand equity, that perennially overused bit of marketing argot, does actually have real monetary value. Though we're loathe to admit it, a huge swath of consumer decision-making is made simply on the virtue and impact of a brand name.

According to the latest calculations from the consulting group Brand Finance, the biggest global brands generate tens of billions of sales just on name alone. (Think powerhouses like Walmart, Microsoft and IBM.)

Brand Finance employs a somewhat wonky method in its annual assessment of the world's 500 top companies. The firm attempts to determine "net present value of the estimated future cash flows" attributable to a specific brand. In other words, they're trying to determine "what's in a (corporate) brand name?"

The research found that the value of the world's top 500 brands has grown in value by 26% -- to US $2,873 billion -- from a year ago. But some sectors are doing better than others. The group reports that the value of bank brands have shown extraordinary improvement, growing by $127 billion -- the biggest increase of any sector. The retail sector, meanwhile, suffered a continued decline, losing $42 billion in brand value over the year as consumers practiced prudent spending in the downturn.

Check out Brand Finance's list of the world's most valuable brands: