Visualized: The Biggest Ponzi Schemes in Modern History
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Visualized: The Biggest Ponzi Schemes in Modern History

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Biggest Ponzi Schemes

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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

Mapping The Biggest Companies By Market Cap in 60 Countries

Tech, finance or energy giant? We mapped the biggest companies by market cap and industry.

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Mapping The Biggest Companies By Market Cap in 60 Countries Share

The Biggest Companies By Market Cap in 60 Countries

Tech giants are increasingly making up more of the Fortune 500, but the world’s biggest companies by market cap aren’t so cut and dry.

Despite accounting for the largest market caps worldwide—with trillion-dollar companies like Apple and contenders including Tencent and Samsung—tech wealth is largely concentrated in just a handful of countries.

So what are the biggest companies in each country? We mapped the largest company by market cap across 60 countries in August 2021 using market data from CompaniesMarketCap, TradingView, and MarketScreener.

What are the Largest Companies in the World?

The world has 60+ stock exchanges, and each one has a top company. We looked at the largest local company, since many of the world’s largest firms trade on multiple exchanges, and converted market cap to USD.

CountryCompanyIndustryMarket Cap (August 2021)
USAAppleTechnology$2.5T
Saudi ArabiaSaudi AramcoEnergy$1.9T
TaiwanTSMCTechnology$594.5B
ChinaTencentTechnology$554.0B
South KoreaSamsungTechnology$429.7B
FranceLVMHConsumer Cyclical$414.3B
SwitzerlandRocheHealthcare$350.0B
NetherlandsASMLTechnology$322.6B
JapanToyotaConsumer Cyclical$251.6B
DenmarkNovo NordiskHealthcare$236.7B
IrelandAccentureTechnology$208.2B
IndiaReliance IndustriesEnergy$198.1B
AustraliaBHP GroupMaterials$191.7B
CanadaShopifyTechnology$185.7B
UKAstrazenecaHealthcare$182.0B
GermanySAPTechnology$174.6B
SingaporeSEATechnology$152.3B
Hong KongAIAFinancials$146.4B
BelgiumAnheuser-Busch InbevConsumer Staples$122.7B
SpainInditexConsumer Cyclical$108.3B
BrazilVALEMaterials$103.9B
RussiaSberbankFinancials$96.7B
ItalyEnelUtilities$93.7B
ArgentinaMercadoLibreConsumer Cyclical$89.5B
SwedenAtlas CopcoIndustrials$84.1B
South AfricaNaspersTechnology$74.1B
NorwayEquinorEnergy$67.9B
UAEEtisalatCommunication$58.7B
MexicoWalmexConsumer Staples$58.1B
IndonesiaBank Cental AsiaFinancials$54.8B
KazakhstanKaspi.kzFinancials$49.8B
QatarQNBFinancials$48.2B
FinlandNordea BankFinancials$48.0B
LuxembourgArcelorMittalMaterials$36.3B
AustriaVerbundUtilities$33.7B
ThailandPTT PCLEnergy$30.1B
ColombiaEcopetrolEnergy$26.7B
MalaysiaMaybankFinancials$23.7B
PhilippinesSM InvestmentsConsumer Cyclical$22.9B
KuwaitKuwait Finance HouseFinancials$21.9B
PortugalEDP GroupUtilities$21.0B
VietnamVinhomesReal Estate$17.1B
IsraelNICETechnology$16.9B
KenyaSafaricomCommunication$16.0B
Czech RepublicÄŒEZ GroupEnergy$15.8B
New ZealandXeroTechnology$15.8B
TurkeyQNB FinansbankFinancials$15.8B
HungaryOTP BankFinancials$15.6B
ChileEnel AmericasUtilities$14.3B
MoroccoMaroc TelecomCommunication$13.6B
PolandPKO Bank PolskiFinancials$12.6B
CyprusPolymetalMaterials$10.0B
NigeriaDangote GroupMaterials$10.0B
BahrainAhli United BankFinancials$8.6B
GreeceOTE GroupCommunication$8.4B
PeruCredicorpFinancials$8.0B
EgyptCommercial International BankFinancials$5.9B
IcelandMarelIndustrials$5.8B
OmanBank MuscatFinancials$4.2B
PanamaCopa HoldingsIndustrials$3.1B

Many are former monopolies or massive conglomerates that have grown in the public space, such as South Africa’s Naspers and India’s Reliance Industries.

Others are local subsidiaries of foreign corporations, including Mexico’s Walmex, Chile’s Enel and Turkey’s QNB Finansbank.

But even more noticeable is the economic discrepancy. Apple and Saudi Aramco are worth trillions of dollars, while the smallest companies we tracked—including Panama’s Copa Group and Oman’s Bank Muscat—are worth less than $5 billion.

Finance and Tech Dominate The Biggest Companies By Market Cap

Across the board, the largest companies were able to accumulate wealth and value.

Some are newer to the top thanks to recent success. Canada’s Shopify has become one of the world’s largest e-commerce providers, and the UK’s AstraZeneca developed one of the world’s COVID-19 vaccines.

But the reality is most companies here are old guards that grew on existing resources, or in the case of banks, accumulated wealth.

IndustryBiggest Companies by Country
Financials16
Technology12
Energy6
Materials5
Communication4
Consumer Cyclical4
Utilities4
Healthcare3
Industrials3
Consumer Staples2
Real Estate1

Banks were the most commonly found at the top of each country’s stock market. Closely behind were oil and gas giants, mining companies, and former state-owned corporations that drove most of a country’s wealth generation.

But as more economies develop and catch up to Western economies (where tech is dominant), newer innovative companies will likely put up a fight for each country’s top company crown.

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Misc

All World Languages in One Visualization

See the world’s major languages broken down by country in this stunning visualization.

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All World Languages, By Native Speakers

View a high resolution version of today’s graphic by clicking here.

Languages provide a window into culture and history. They’re also a unique way to map the world – not through landmasses or geopolitical borders, but through mother tongues.

The Tower of Babel

Today’s infographic from Alberto Lucas Lopez condenses the 7,102 known living languages today into a stunning visualization, with individual colors representing each world region.

Only 23 languages are spoken by at least 50 million native speakers. What’s more, over half the planet speaks at least one of these 23 languages.

Chinese dominates as a macrolanguage, but it’s important to note that it consists of numerous languages. Mandarin, Yue (including Cantonese), Min, Wu, and Hakka cover over 200 individual dialects, which vary further by geographic location.

CountryNative Chinese speakers (millions)
🇨🇳 China1,152.0
🇹🇼 Taiwan21.8
🇭🇰 Hong Kong SAR6.5
🇲🇾 Malaysia5.1
🇸🇬 Singapore1.8
🇹🇭 Thailand1.2
🇻🇳 Vietnam0.9
🇵🇭 Philippines0.7
🇲🇲 Myanmar0.5
🇲🇴 Macau SAR0.5
Other6.0
Total1,197 million

Chinese is one of the most challenging languages for English speakers to pick up, in part due its completely unfamiliar scripts. You’d have to know at least 3,000 characters to be able to read a newspaper, a far cry from memorizing the A-Z alphabet.

Spanglish Takes Over

After Chinese, the languages of Spanish and English sit in second and third place in terms of global popularity. The rapid proliferation of these languages can be traced back to the history of Spanish conquistadors in the Americas, and British colonies around the world.

Animation: Map of Colonization (1492 – 2008):
Colonization Map

Today, Spanish has 399 million native speakers, but these are mostly concentrated in Latin America. English has 335 million native speakers under its belt, with a widespread reach all over the globe.

Two Worlds, One Family

While the visualization makes all the world languages seem disparate, this linguistic family tree shows how they grew from a common root. It also explains how languages can evolve and branch out over time.

Language Tree

Created by Minna Sundberg. Full version.

This linguistic tree also includes many languages that are not on the large visualization of 23 mother tongues. Some of them might be considered endangered or at risk today, such as Catalan or Welsh. However, with globalization, a few interesting linguistic trends are arising.

1. Language revival
Certain enclaves of marginalized languages are being preserved out of pride for the traditional and cultural histories attached.

While Catalan was once banned, its rebirth is a key marker of identity in Barcelona. More than 150 universities teach Catalan worldwide. In the case of Welsh, a mammoth university project plans to make sure it does not die out. Researchers are compiling ten million Welsh words to preserve the past, present, and future of the language.

2. Language forecast
At this point in time, English is the lingua franca – adopted as a common language among speakers with different mother tongues. However, this status might soon be fuzzier as demographic trends continue.

The rise of China is an obvious one to consider. As China continues to increase its economic might and influence, its languages will proliferate as well.

At the same time, 26 African countries are projected to double their current size, many of which speak French as a first language. One study by investment bank Natixis suggests that Africa’s growth may well bring French to the forefront – making it the most-spoken language by 2050.

Could French provide a certain je ne sais quoi that no other world language can quite replace?

This post was first published in 2018. We have since updated it, adding in new content for 2021.

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