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The Most Valuable Companies of All-Time

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Dutch East India Company compared

Chart: The Most Valuable Companies of All-Time

The Chart of the Week is a weekly Visual Capitalist feature on Fridays.

Before speculative bubbles could form around Dotcom companies (late-1990s) or housing prices (mid-2000s), some of the first financial bubbles formed from the prospect of trading with faraway lands.

Looking back, it’s pretty easy to see why.

Companies like the Dutch East India Company (known in Dutch as the VOC, or Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie) were granted monopolies on trade, and they engaged in daring voyages to mysterious and foreign places. They could acquire exotic goods, establish colonies, create military forces, and even initiate wars or conflicts around the world.

Of course, the very nature of these risky ventures made getting any accurate indication of intrinsic value nearly impossible, which meant there were no real benchmarks for what companies like this should be worth.

Speculative Peak

The Dutch East India Company was established as a charter company in 1602, when it was granted a 21-year monopoly by the Dutch government for the spice trade in Asia. The company would eventually send over one million voyagers to Asia, which is more than the rest of Europe combined.

However, despite its 200-year run as Europe’s foremost trading juggernaut – the speculative peak of the company’s prospects coincided with Tulip Mania in Holland in 1637.

Widely considered the world’s first financial bubble, the history of Tulip Mania is a fantastic story in itself. During this frothy time, the Dutch East India Company was worth 78 million Dutch guilders, which translates to a whopping $7.9 trillion in modern dollars.

This is according to sources such as Alex Planes from The Motley Fool, who has conducted extensive research on the history of very large companies in history.

Modern Comparisons

The peak value of the Dutch East India Company was so high, that it puts modern economies to shame.

In fact, at its height, the Dutch East India Company was worth roughly the same amount as the GDPs of modern-day Japan ($4.8T) and Germany ($3.4T) added together.

Even further, in today’s chart, we added the market caps of 20 of the world’s largest companies, such as Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, ExxonMobil, Berkshire Hathaway, Tencent, and Wells Fargo. All of them combined gets us to $7.9 trillion.

At the same time, the world’s most valuable company (Apple) only makes it to 11% of the peak value of the Dutch East India Company by itself.

Historic Heavyweights

Despite the speculation that fueled the run-up of Dutch East India Company shares, the company was still successful in real terms. At one point, it even had 70,000 employees – a massive accomplishment for a company born over 400 years ago.

The same thing can’t be said for the other two most valuable companies in history – both of which were the subject of simultaneous bubbles occurring in France and Britain that popped in 1720.

In France, the wealth of Louisiana was exaggerated in a marketing scheme for the newly formed Mississippi Company, and its value temporarily soared to the equivalent of $6.5 trillion today. Meanwhile, a joint-stock company in Britain, known as the South Sea Company, was granted a monopoly to trade with South America. It was eventually worth $4.3 trillion in modern currency.

Interestingly, both would barely engage in any actual trade with the Americas.

The other historic heavyweights included in our chart?

  • Saudi Aramco, at $4.1 trillion, based on calculations by University of Texas finance professor Sheridan Titman in 2010, and adjusted for inflation.
  • PetroChina surpassed $1 trillion in market cap in 2007. Adjusted for inflation that’s $1.4 trillion today.
  • Standard Oil, before its famous breakup due to monopolistic reasons, was worth at least $1 trillion. Adjusted for inflation it would likely be more, but we kept this conservative.
  • Microsoft reached its peak valuation in 1999, at the top of the Dotcom Bubble. Today, that would be equal to $912 billion.

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Chart of the Week

Ranked: Which Economies Are the Most Competitive?

The world’s top countries excel in many fields—but there can only be one #1. How have the most competitive economies shifted in the past decade?

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Ranked: Which Economies Are the Most Competitive?

What makes a country successful from an economic perspective? Many think of this in terms of GDP per capita—but in a rapidly changing world, our definitions of progress have evolved to encompass much more.

This animated Chart of the Week visualizes 10 years of global competitiveness, according to the World Economic Forum, and tracks how rankings have changed in this time.

How Do You Measure Competition?

The WEF’s annual Global Competitiveness Report defines the concept of ‘competitiveness’ as an economy’s productivity—and the institutions, policies, and factors which shape this.

This year’s edition unpacks the national competitiveness of 141 countries, using the newly-introduced Global Competitiveness Index (GCI) 4.0 which looks at four key metrics:

  1. Enabling Environment
    Includes: Institutions, Infrastructure, ICT Adoption*, Macroeconomic Activity
    *Refers to information and communications technology
  2. Human Capital
    Includes: Health, Skills
  3. Markets
    Includes: Product Market, Labor Market, Financial System, Market Size
  4. Innovation Ecosystem
    Includes: Business Dynamics, Innovation Capability
  5. Each country’s overall competitiveness score is an average of these 12 main pillars of productivity. With that out of the way, let’s dive into the countries which emerge triumphant.

    The Most Competitive: Movers and Shakers

    The world’s top countries excel in many fields—but there can only be one #1. In 2019, Singapore wins the coveted “most competitive economy” title, with a 84.8 score on the GCI.

    The nation’s developed infrastructure, health, labor market, and financial system have all propelled it forward—swapping with the U.S. (83.7) for the top spot. However, more can be done, as the report notes Singapore still lacks press freedom and demonstrates a low commitment to sustainability.

    How have the current scores of the most competitive economies improved or fallen behind, compared to 2018?

    RankEconomy2019 Score2018 Score2018-2019 Change
    #1🇸🇬 Singapore84.883.5+1.3
    #2🇺🇸 United States83.785.6-2
    #3🇭🇰 Hong Kong83.182.3+0.9
    #4🇳🇱 Netherlands82.482.40
    #5🇨🇭 Switzerland82.382.6-0.3
    #6🇯🇵 Japan82.382.5-0.2
    #7🇩🇪 Germany81.882.8-1
    #8🇸🇪 Sweden81.281.7-0.4
    #9🇬🇧 United Kingdom81.282-0.8
    #10🇩🇰 Denmark81.280.6+0.6

    Finland (80.2) and Canada (79.6) are notable exits from this top 10 list over the years. Meanwhile, Denmark (81.2) disappeared from the rankings for five years, but managed to climb back up in 2018.

    Regional Competitiveness: Highs and Lows

    Another perspective on the most competitive economies is to look at how countries fare within regions, and how these regions compete among each other.

    Middle East and North Africa (MENA) has the widest gap in competitiveness scores—Israel (76.7) scores over double that of poorest-performing Yemen (35.5). Interestingly, the MENA region showed the most progress, growing its median score by 2.77% between 2018-2019.

    The narrowest gap is actually in South Asia, with just a single-digit difference between India (61.4) and Nepal (51.6). However, the region also grew the slowest, with only 0.08% increase in median score over a year.

    RegionBest Performer2019 ScoreWorst Performer2019 ScoreRegional
    Gap
    Europe and North America🇺🇸 United States83.7🇧🇦 Bosnia & Herzegovina54.729
    Latin America and the Caribbean🇨🇱 Chile70.5🇭🇹 Haiti36.334.2
    East Asia and Pacific🇸🇬 Singapore84.8🇱🇦 Laos50.134.7
    South Asia🇮🇳 India61.4🇳🇵 Nepal51.69.8
    Eurasia🇷🇺 Russia66.7🇹🇯 Tajikistan52.414.3
    Middle East and North Africa🇮🇱 Israel76.7🇾🇪 Yemen35.541.2
    Sub-Saharan Africa🇲🇺 Mauritius64.3🇹🇩 Chad35.129.2

    Across all regions, the WEF found that East Asia’s 73.9 median score was the highest. Europe and North America were not far behind with a 70.9 median score. This is consistent with the fact that the most competitive economies have all come from these regions in the past decade.

    As all these countries race towards the frontier—an ideal state where productivity growth is not constrained—the report notes that competitiveness “does not imply a zero-sum game”. Instead, any and all countries are capable of improving their productivity according to the GCI measures.

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Chart of the Week

Which Companies Are Responsible For the Most Carbon Emissions?

Since 1965, over ⅓ of the world’s cumulative carbon emissions can be traced back to just 20 fossil fuel companies. Who are the biggest contributors?

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20 Companies Responsible For the Most Carbon Emissions?

Since 1965, it’s estimated over 1.35 million metric tons (MtCO₂e) of greenhouse gases have been released into the atmosphere—and over a third can be traced back to just 20 companies.

This week’s chart draws on a dataset from the Climate Accountability Institute, and highlights the companies which have been responsible for the most carbon emissions in the past half-century.

The Sum of their Carbon Emissions

Between 1965-2017, the top 20 companies have contributed 480,169 MtCO₂e in total carbon emissions, or 35% of cumulative global emissions. This whopping amount is mostly from the combustion of their products—each company on this chart deals in fossil fuels.

The largest contributor? Saudi Aramco, the national petroleum and natural gas company of Saudi Arabia. Saudi Aramco actually comes in first on another list as well—it’s the most profitable company, making over $304 million daily.

However, this financial gain came at a significant cost: the state-owned giant’s operations have resulted in 59,262 MtCO₂e in carbon emissions since 1965. To put that into perspective, this total is more than six times China’s emissions in 2017 alone (9,838 MtCO₂e).

Explore the full list of companies by location, who owns them, and their total 1965–2017 emissions count below:

CompanyCountryOwnershipAll Emissions, MtCO₂e
Total Emissions480,169 MtCO₂e
Saudi Aramco🇸🇦 Saudi ArabiaState-owned59,262
Chevron🇺🇸 U.S.Investor-owned43,345
Gazprom🇷🇺 RussiaState-owned43,230
Exxon Mobil🇺🇸 U.S.Investor-owned41,904
National Iranian Oil Co.🇮🇷 IranState-owned35,658
BP🇬🇧 UKInvestor-owned34,015
Royal Dutch Shell🇳🇱 NetherlandsInvestor-owned31,948
Coal India🇮🇳 IndiaState-owned23,124
Pemex🇲🇽 MexicoState-owned22,645
Petroleus de Venezuela🇻🇪 VenezuelaState-owned15,745
PetroChina🇨🇳 ChinaState-owned15,632
Peabody Energy🇺🇸 U.S.Investor-owned15,385
ConocoPhillips🇺🇸 U.S.Investor-owned15,229
Abu Dhabi National Oil Co.🇦🇪 UAEState-owned13,840
Kuwait Petroleum Corp.🇰🇼 KuwaitState-owned13,479
Iraq National Oil Co.🇮🇶 IraqState-owned12,596
Total SA🇫🇷 FranceInvestor-owned12,352
Sonatrach🇩🇿 AlgeriaState-owned12,302
BHP Billiton🇦🇺 AustraliaInvestor-owned9,802
Petrobras🇧🇷 BrazilState-owned8,676

A Greener Business Model?

According to the researchers, all the companies that show up in today’s chart bear some responsibility for knowingly accelerating the climate crisis even after proven scientific evidence.

In fact, U.S.-based Exxon Mobil is currently on trial for misleading investors: the company downplayed the effect of climate change on its profitability, while internal calculations proved to be much larger. It also sowed public doubt on the immense impacts of rising greenhouse gas levels on the planet.

Growing sustainability and environmental concerns threaten the viability of old business models for these corporations, causing many to pivot away from the fossil fuel focus. Take BP for example—originally named British Petroleum, the company embraced “Beyond Petroleum” as its new rallying cry. More recently, it launched a carbon footprint calculator and is committed to keeping its carbon emissions flat into 2025.

However, the Climate Accountability Institute argues that more can still be done, with the researchers calling for these companies to reduce their fossil fuel production in the near future.

Continued pressure on these “Big Oil” companies to peak their carbon emissions, and urgently increase their renewable energy investment, may help curb the climate crisis before it’s too late.

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