How the World’s Biggest Companies Have Changed in Just 10 Years
The Chart of the Week is a weekly Visual Capitalist feature on Fridays.
At first glance, the business world may seem quite static. The biggest companies today – ones like Apple, Walmart, or Exxon Mobil – will likely also be some of the biggest companies tomorrow. Fast forward a week, a month, or a year, and odds are that they will still be at the top of the food chain.
But fast forward any further, and those odds change considerably. In a decade, there just has to be one bad strategic decision, a missed trend, or a colossal managerial mistake, and you have the next Kodak, Blockbuster, or Sears.
A Changing List
Every year, Fortune publishes a ranking of the world’s top companies by revenue. We compared the 100 highest revenue companies in both 2008 and 2018 to see how much things change in ten years – and the results are pretty astounding.
The most fundamental finding: 43 of the 100 companies on top of today’s list were not there ten years ago. Some of the “new” entries, like Amazon or Huawei, are to be expected – but other companies like Microsoft or Apple are more surprising.
In 2008, for example, Apple was ranked just #337 in global revenue, and today it comes in 11th place.
A Closer Look at the Top 10
The full graphic looks at the Top 100, but let’s zoom in just to the very top.
Here were the top 10 companies in 2008:
|#2||Exxon Mobil||USA||$372.8 billion|
|#3||Royal Dutch Shell||Netherlands||$355.8 billion|
|#5||Toyota Motor||Japan||$230.2 billion|
|#7||ING Group||Netherlands||$201.5 billion|
|#9||General Motors||USA||$182.3 billion|
Ten years ago, oil prices were sky-high and the list was dominated with energy names like Total, Chevron, and ConocoPhillips. Amazingly, ING Group was the only financial company to make the list in 2008, but it has since fallen to #171 globally.
Let’s jump to the 2018 list:
|#2||State Grid||China||$348.9 billion|
|#3||Sinopec Group||China||$327.0 billion|
|#4||China National Petroleum||China||$326.0 billion|
|#5||Royal Dutch Shell||Netherlands||$311.9 billion|
|#6||Toyota Motor||Japan||$265.2 billion|
|#9||Exxon Mobil||USA||$244.4 billion|
|#10||Berkshire Hathaway||USA||$242.1 billion|
While the modern list has just as many energy names, half of them are now Chinese companies like State Grid or Sinopec Group. Meanwhile, the staying power – at least in terms of revenue – of companies like Walmart, Toyota, Royal Dutch Shell, and BP is quite impressive.
Recession Risk: Which Sectors are Least Vulnerable?
We show the sectors with the lowest exposure to recession risk—and the factors that drive their performance.
Recession Risk: Which Sectors are Least Vulnerable?
In the context of a potential recession, some sectors may be in better shape than others.
They share several fundamental qualities, including:
- Less cyclical exposure
- Lower rate sensitivity
- Higher cash levels
- Lower capital expenditures
With this in mind, the above chart looks at the sectors most resilient to recession risk and rising costs, using data from Allianz Trade.
Recession Risk, by Sector
As slower growth and rising rates put pressure on corporate margins and the cost of capital, we can see in the table below that this has impacted some sectors more than others in the last year:
|Sector||Margin (p.p. change)
|🏡 Household Equipment||-0.9|
|🚗 Automotive Manufacturers||-1.1|
|🏭 Machinery & Equipment||-1.1|
|🖥️ Computers & Telecom||-2.0|
*Percentage point changes 2021- 2022.
Generally speaking, the retail sector has been shielded from recession risk and higher prices. In 2023, accelerated consumer spending and a strong labor market has supported retail sales, which have trended higher since 2021. Consumer spending makes up roughly two-thirds of the U.S. economy.
Sectors including chemicals and pharmaceuticals have traditionally been more resistant to market turbulence, but have fared worse than others more recently.
In theory, sectors including construction, metals, and automotives are often rate-sensitive and have high capital expenditures. Yet, what we have seen in the last year is that many of these sectors have been able to withstand margin pressures fairly well in spite of tightening credit conditions as seen in the table above.
What to Watch: Corporate Margins in Perspective
One salient feature of the current market environment is that corporate profit margins have approached historic highs.
As the above chart shows, after-tax profit margins for non-financial corporations hovered over 14% in 2022, the highest post-WWII. In fact, this trend has been increasing over the past two decades.
According to a recent paper, firms have used their market power to increase prices. As a result, this offset margin pressures, even as sales volume declined.
Overall, we can see that corporate profit margins are higher than pre-pandemic levels. Sectors focused on essential goods to the consumer were able to make price hikes as consumers purchased familiar brands and products.
Adding to stronger margins were demand shocks that stemmed from supply chain disruptions. The auto sector, for example, saw companies raise prices without the fear of diminishing market share. All of these factors have likely built up a buffer to help reduce future recession risk.
Sector Fundamentals Looking Ahead
How are corporate metrics looking in 2023?
In the first quarter of 2023, S&P 500 earnings fell almost 4%. It was the second consecutive quarter of declining earnings for the index. Despite slower growth, the S&P 500 is up roughly 15% from lows seen in October.
Yet according to an April survey from the Bank of America, global fund managers are overwhelmingly bearish, highlighting contradictions in the market.
For health care and utilities sectors, the vast majority of companies in the index are beating revenue estimates in 2023. Over the last 30 years, these defensive sectors have also tended to outperform other sectors during a downturn, along with consumer staples. Investors seek them out due to their strong balance sheets and profitability during market stress.
|S&P 500 Sector||Percent of Companies With Revenues Above Estimates (Q1 2023)|
|Real Estate ||81%|
Cyclical sectors, such as financials and industrials tend to perform worse. We can see this today with turmoil in the banking system, as bank stocks remain sensitive to interest rate hikes. Making matters worse, the spillover from rising rates may still take time to materialize.
Defensive sectors like health care, staples, and utilities could be less vulnerable to recession risk. Lower correlation to economic cycles, lower rate-sensitivity, higher cash buffers, and lower capital expenditures are all key factors that support their resilience.
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