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The Biggest Ammonium Nitrate Explosions Since 2000

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ammonium nitrate explosions

The Biggest Ammonium Nitrate Explosions since 2000

This week, a massive explosion involving ammonium nitrate rocked the city of Beirut, sending shock waves through the media.

This recent tragedy is devastating, and unfortunately, it’s not the first time this dangerous chemical compound has caused widespread damage.

Today’s graphic outlines the biggest accidental ammonium nitrate explosions over the last 20 years.

A Brief Explanation of Ammonium Nitrate

Before getting into the details, first thing’s first—what is ammonium nitrate?

Ammonium nitrate is formed when ammonia gas is combined with liquid nitric acid. The chemical compound is widely used in agriculture as a fertilizer, but it’s also used in mining explosives. It’s highly combustible when combined with oils and other fuels, but not flammable on its own unless exposed to extremely high temperatures.

It’s actually relatively tough for a fire to cause an ammonium nitrate explosion—but that hasn’t stopped it from happening numerous times in the last few decades.

The Death Toll

Some explosions involving ammonium nitrate have been deadlier than others. Here’s a breakdown of the death toll from each blast:

YearLocationCountryDeaths
2015TianjinChina165
2004RyongchonNorth Korea160
2020BeirutLebanon157*
2007MonclovaMexico57
2001ToulouseFrance30
2003Saint-Romain-en-JarezFrance26
2004MihăileştiRomania18
2013WestUnited States15
2004BarracasSpain2
2014WyandraAustralia0

*Note: death count in Beirut as of Aug 6, 2020. Casualty count expected to increase as more information comes available.

One of the deadliest explosions happened in Tianjin, China in 2015. A factory was storing flammable chemicals with ammonium nitrate, and because they weren’t being stored properly, one of the chemicals got too dry and caught fire. The blast killed 165 people and caused $1.1 billion dollars in damage.

In 2001, 14 years before the explosion in Tianjin, a factory exploded in Toulouse, France. The accident killed 30 people and injured 2,500. The power of the blast was equivalent to 20 to 40 tons of TNT, meaning that 40 to 80 tons of ammonium nitrate would have ignited.

In addition to factory explosions, there have been several transportation accidents involving ammonium nitrate. In 2007, a truck in Mexico blew up and killed over 57 people. Filled with explosives, the truck crashed into a pickup, caught fire, and detonated. The blast left a 60-foot long crater in its wake.

The Aftermath

While there have been several ammonium nitrate accidents throughout history, the recent tragedy in Beirut is one of the largest accidental explosions ever recorded, with 157 deaths and 5,000 injuries and counting.

In terms of TNT equivalent, a measure used to gauge the impact of an explosion, it ranks in the top 10 of the largest accidental explosions in history:

Topping the list is yet another ammonium nitrate explosion, this time back in 1947.

Known to history as the Texas City Disaster, the port accident was one of the biggest non-nuclear explosions to occur in history. The explosion killed over 500 people and injured thousands. The impact from the blast was so intense, it created a 15-foot wave that crashed along the docks and caused flooding in the area.

A Resource With Trade-Offs

Despite being dangerous, ammonium nitrate is still a valuable resource. There’s been an increased demand for the chemical from North America’s agricultural sector, and because of this, ammonium nitrate’s market size is expected to see an increase of more than 3% by 2026.

Because of its increasing market size, it’s more important than ever for trade industries to enforce proper safety measures when storing and transporting ammonium nitrate. When safety regulations aren’t followed, accidents can happen—and as we saw this week, the aftermath can be devastating.

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Misc

Visualized: The Biggest Ponzi Schemes in Modern History

Learn the stories behind some of the world’s biggest Ponzi schemes in this illustrative infographic timeline.

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The Biggest Ponzi Schemes in Modern History

Some things simply sound too good to be true, but when money is involved, our judgement can become clouded.

This is often the case with Ponzi schemes, a type of financial fraud that lures investors by promising abnormally high returns. Money brought in by new members is used to pay the scheme’s founders, as well as its earlier investors.

The scheme is named after Charles Ponzi, an Italian who became infamous in the 1920s for claiming he could double his clients’ money within 90 days. Since then, numerous Ponzi schemes have been orchestrated around the globe.

To help you learn more about these sophisticated crimes, this infographic examines some of the biggest Ponzi schemes in modern history.

Ponzi Schemes in the 20th Century

The 1990s saw a number of large Ponzi schemes worth upwards of $500 million.

CountryDate EndedName of Scheme and FounderValue (USD)
Belgium1991Moneytron, Jean-Pierre Van Rossem$860M
Romania1994Caritas, Ioan Stoica$1B - $5B
Russia1994MMM, Sergei Mavrodi$10B
U.S.1997Great Ministries International, Geral Payne$500M

In many cases, these schemes thrived by taking advantage of the unsuspecting public who often lacked any knowledge of investing. Caritas, for example, was a Ponzi scheme based in Romania that marketed itself as a “self-help game” for the poor.

The scheme was initially very successful, tricking millions of people into making deposits by offering the chance to earn an 800% return after three months. This was not sustainable, and Caritas was eventually unable to distribute further winnings.

Caritas operated for only two years, but its “success” was undeniable. In 1993, it was estimated that a third of the country’s money was circulating through the scheme.

Ponzi Schemes in the 21st Century

The American public has fallen victim to numerous multi-billion dollar Ponzi schemes since the beginning of the 21st century.

CountryDate EndedName of Scheme and FounderValue (USD)
U.S.2003Mutual Benefits Company, Joel Steinger$1B
U.S.2003Petters Group Worldwide, Tom Petters$4B
U.S.2008Madoff Investment Scandal, Bernie Madoff$65B
U.S.2012Stanford Financial Group, Allen Stanford$7B

Many of these schemes have made major headlines, but much less is said about the thousands of everyday Americans that were left in financial ruin.

For victims of the Madoff Investment Scandal, receiving any form of compensation has been a drawn-out process. In 2018, 10 years after the scheme was uncovered, a court-appointed trustee managed to recover $13 billion by liquidating Madoff’s firm and personal assets.

As NPR reported, investors may recover up to 60 to 70 percent of their initial investment only. For victims who had to delay retirement or drastically alter their lifestyles, this compensation likely provides little solace.

Do the Crime, Pay the Time

Running a Ponzi scheme is likely to land you in jail for a long time, at least in the U.S.

In 2009, for example, 71-year-old Bernie Madoff pled guilty to 11 federal felonies and was sentenced to 150 years in prison. That’s 135 years longer than the average U.S. murder conviction.

Outside of the U.S., it’s a much different story. Weaker regulation and enforcement, particularly in developing countries, means a number of schemes are ongoing today.

Sergei Mavrodi, known for running the Russian Ponzi scheme MMM, started a new organization named MMM Global after being released from prison in 2011. Although he died in March 2018, his self-described “social financial network” has established a base in several Southeast Asian and African countries.

If you or someone you know is worried about falling victim to a Ponzi scheme, this checklist from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) may be a useful resource.

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Markets

The Top 100 Companies of the World: The U.S. vs Everyone Else

Where are the top 100 companies of the world located? We highlight the U.S. share of the top companies by market capitalization .

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Top 100 Companies World vs US Shareable

The Top 100 Companies of the World: U.S. vs Everyone

When it comes to breaking down the top 100 companies of the world, the United States still commands the largest slice of the pie.

Throughout the 20th century and before globalization reached its current peaks, American companies made the country an economic powerhouse and the source of a majority of global market value.

But even as countries like China have made headway with multi-billion dollar companies of their own, and the market’s most important sectors have shifted, the U.S. has managed to stay on top.

How do the top 100 companies of the world stack up? This visualization pulls from PwC’s annual ranking of the world’s largest companies, using market capitalization data from May 2021.

Where are the World’s Largest Companies Located?

The world’s top 100 companies account for a massive $31.7 trillion in market cap, but that wealth is not distributed evenly.

Between companies, there’s a wide range of market caps. For example, the difference between the world’s largest company (Apple) and the 100th largest (Anheuser-Busch) is $1.9 trillion.

And between countries, that divide becomes even more stark. Of the 16 countries with companies making the top 100 ranking, the U.S. accounts for 65% of the total market cap value.

Location# of CompaniesMarket Capitalization (May 2021)
🇺🇸 United States59$20.55T
🇨🇳 China14$4.19T
🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia1$1.92T
🇨🇭 Switzerland3$0.82T
🇳🇱 Netherlands3$0.58T
🇯🇵 Japan3$0.56T
🇫🇷 France2$0.55T
🇩🇪 Germany3$0.46T
🇰🇷 South Korea1$0.43T
🇬🇧 United Kingdom3$0.43T
🇮🇳 India2$0.34T
🇮🇪 Ireland2$0.34T
🇦🇺 Australia1$0.16T
🇩🇰 Denmark1$0.16T
🇨🇦 Canada1$0.13T
🇧🇪 Belgium1$0.13T

Compared to the U.S., other once-prominent markets like Japan, France, and the UK have seen their share of the world’s top 100 companies falter over the years. In fact, all of Europe accounts for just $3.46 trillion or 11% of the total market cap value of the list.

A major reason for the U.S. dominance in market values is a shift in important industries and contributors. Of the world’s top 100 companies, 52% were based in either technology or consumer discretionary, and the current largest players like Apple, Alphabet, Tesla, and Walmart are all American-based.

The Top 100 Companies of the World: Competition From China

The biggest and most impressive competitor to the U.S. is China.

With 14 companies of its own in the world’s top 100, China accounted for $4.19 trillion or 13% of the top 100’s total market cap value. That includes two of the top 10 firms by market cap, Tencent and Alibaba.

 CompanyCountrySectorMarket Cap (May 2021)
#1AppleUnited StatesTechnology$2,051B
#2Saudi AramcoSaudi ArabiaEnergy$1,920B
#3MicrosoftUnited StatesTechnology$1,778B
#4AmazonUnited StatesConsumer Discretionary$1,558B
#5AlphabetUnited StatesTechnology$1,393B
#6FacebookUnited StatesTechnology$839B
#7TencentChinaTechnology$753B
#8TeslaUnited StatesConsumer Discretionary$641B
#9AlibabaChinaConsumer Discretionary$615B
#10Berkshire HathwayUnited StatesFinancials$588B
#11TSMCChinaTechnology$534B
#12VisaUnited StatesIndustrials$468B
#13JPMorgan ChaseUnited StatesFinancials$465B
#14Johnson & JohnsonUnited StatesHealth Care$433B
#15Samsung ElectronicsSouth KoreaTechnology$431B
#16Kweichow MoutaiChinaConsumer Staples$385B
#17WalmartUnited StatesConsumer Discretionary$383B
#18MastercardUnited StatesIndustrials$354B
#19UnitedHealth GroupUnited StatesHealth Care$352B
#20LVMH Moët HennessyFranceConsumer Discretionary$337B
#21Walt Disney CoUnited StatesConsumer Discretionary$335B
#22Bank of AmericaUnited StatesFinancials$334B
#23Procter & GambleUnited StatesConsumer Staples$333B
#24NvidiaUnited StatesTechnology$331B
#25Home DepotUnited StatesConsumer Discretionary$329B
#26Nestle SASwitzerlandConsumer Staples$322B
#27ICBCChinaFinancials$290B
#28Paypal HoldingsUnited StatesIndustrials$284B
#29Roche HoldingsSwitzerlandHealth Care$283B
#30Intel United StatesTechnology$261B
#31ASML Holding NVNetherlandsTechnology$255B
#32Toyota MotorJapanConsumer Discretionary$254B
#33ComcastUnited StatesTelecommunication$248B
#34Verizon CommunicationsUnited StatesTelecommunication$241B
#35Exxon MobilUnited StatesEnergy$236B
#36NetflixUnited StatesConsumer Discretionary$231B
#37AdobeUnited StatesTechnology$228B
#38Coca-Cola Co United StatesConsumer Staples$227B
#39MeituanChinaTechnology$226B
#40Ping AnChinaFinancials$219B
#41Cisco SystemsUnited StatesTelecommunication$218B
#42AT&TUnited StatesFinancials$216B
#43L'OréalFranceConsumer Discretionary$215B
#44China Construction BankChinaFinancials$213B
#45Abbott LabsUnited StatesHealth Care$212B
#46Novartis AGSwitzerlandHealth Care$212B
#47NikeUnited StatesConsumer Discretionary$209B
#48Oracle United StatesTechnology$202B
#49PfizerUnited StatesHealth Care$202B
#50ChevronUnited StatesOil & Gas$202B
#51China Merchants BankChinaFinancials$196B
#52PepsiCoUnited StatesConsumer Staples$195B
#53Salesforce.comUnited StatesTechnology$195B
#54Merck & CoUnited StatesHealth Care$195B
#55AbbVieUnited StatesHealth Care$191B
#56BroadcomUnited StatesTechnology$189B
#57Prosus NVNetherlandsTechnology$181B
#58Reliance IndustriesIndiaEnergy$180B
#59Thermo Fisher ScientificUnited StatesHealth Care$180B
#60Eli Lilly & CoUnited StatesHealth Care$179B
#61Agricultural Bank of ChinaChinaFinancials$178B
#62Softbank GroupJapanTelecommunication$176B
#63Accenture IrelandIndustrials$176B
#64Texas InstrumentsUnited StatesTechnology$174B
#65McDonaldsUnited StatesConsumer Discretionary$167B
#66Volkswagen AGGermanyConsumer Discretionary$165B
#67BHP GroupAustraliaBasic Materials$163B
#68Wells Fargo & CoUnited StatesFinancials$162B
#69Tata Consultancy ServicesIndiaTechnology$161B
#70DanaherUnited StatesHealth Care$160B
#71Novo NordiskDenmarkHealth Care$160B
#72Medtronic IrelandHealth Care$159B
#73Wuliangye YibinChinaConsumer Staples$159B
#74Costco WholesaleUnited StatesConsumer Discretionary$156B
#75T-Mobile USUnited StatesTelecommunication$156B
#76CitigroupUnited StatesFinancials$152B
#77HoneywellUnited StatesIndustrials$151B
#78QualcommUnited StatesTechnology$151B
#79SAP SEGermanyTechnology$151B
#80BoeingUnited StatesIndustrials$149B
#81Royal Dutch Shell NetherlandsOil & Gas$148B
#82NextEra EnergyUnited StatesUtilities$148B
#83United Parcel ServiceUnited StatesIndustrials$148B
#84Union PACUnited StatesIndustrials$148B
#85Unilever United KingdomConsumer Staples$147B
#86AIA ChinaFinancials$147B
#87LindeUnited KingdomBasic Materials$146B
#88AmgenUnited StatesHealth Care$144B
#89Bristol Myers SquibbUnited StatesHealth Care$141B
#90Siemens AGGermanyIndustrials$140B
#91Bank of ChinaChinaFinancials$139B
#92Philip MorrisUnited StatesConsumer Staples$138B
#93Lowe's CompaniesUnited StatesConsumer Discretionary$136B
#94Charter CommunicationsUnited StatesTelecommunication$135B
#95China MobileChinaTelecommunication$134B
#96Sony GroupJapanConsumer Discretionary$132B
#97AstrazenecaUnited KingdomHealth Care$131B
#98Royal Bank of CanadaCanadaFinancials$131B
#99StarbucksUnited StatesConsumer Discretionary$129B
#100Anheuser-BuschBelgiumConsumer Staples$128B

Impressively, China’s rise in market value isn’t limited to well-known tech and consumer companies. The country’s second biggest contributing industry to the top 100 firms was finance, once also the most valuable sector in the U.S. (currently 4th behind tech, consumer discretionary, and health care).

Other notable countries on the list include Saudi Arabia and its state-owned oil and gas giant Saudi Aramco, which is the third largest company in the world. Despite only having one company in the top 100, Saudi Arabia had the third-largest share of the top 100’s total market cap value.

As Europe continues to lose ground year-over-year and the rest of Asia struggles to keep up, the top 100 companies might become increasingly concentrated in just the U.S. and China. The question is, will the imbalance of global market value start to even out, or become even bigger?

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