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The 20 Biggest Bankruptcies in U.S. History

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Doing business means taking calculated risks.

Regardless of whether you are opening a lemonade stand or you’re a leading executive at a Fortune 500 company, risk is an inevitable part of the game.

Taking bigger risks can generate proportional rewards – and sometimes, such as for the companies you’ll read about below, the risk-taking backfired to queue up some of the biggest bankruptcies in U.S. history.

Going For Broke

Today’s infographic comes to us from TitleMax, and it highlights the 20 biggest bankruptcies in the country’s history.

Companies below are sorted by total assets at the time of bankruptcy.

The 20 Biggest Bankruptcies in U.S. History

There are times when companies are forced to push in all of their chips to make a game-changing bet. Sometimes this pans out, and sometimes the plan fails miserably.

In other situations, companies were actually unaware they were “all-in”. Instead, the potentially destructive nature of the risk was not even on the radar, only to be later triggered through a global crisis or unanticipated “Black Swan” events.

The Biggest Bankruptcies in the U.S.

Here are the 20 biggest bankruptcies in U.S. history, and what triggered them:

RankCompanyYearAssets at BankruptcyDownfall
#1Lehman Brothers2008$691 billion2008 financial crisis
#2Washington Mutual2008$328 billion2008 financial crisis
#3Worldcom Inc.2002$104 billionAccounting scandal
#4GM2009$82 billionMassive debt
#5CIT Group2009$71 billionCredit crunch
#6Pacific Gas & Electric2019$71 billionWildfires
#7Enron2001$66 billionFraud
#8Conseco2002$61 billionFailed acquisition strategy
#9MF Global2011$41 billionEuropean sovereign bonds
#10Chrysler2009$39 billionMassive debt
#11Thornburg Mortgage2009$37 billionDeclining mortgage values
#12Pacific Gas & Electric2001$36 billionDrought
#13Texaco1987$35 billionContract dispute
#14FCOA1988$34 billionSavings and loan crisis
#15Refco2005$33 billionAccounting fraud
#16IndyMac Bancorp2008$33 billionMortgage market collapse
#17Global Crossing2002$30 billionPlummeting world economy
#18Bank of New England1991$30 billionBad loans
#19General Growth Properties2009$30 billionFailed acquisition strategy
#20Lyondell Chemical2009$27 billionDecline in demand

The data set on the biggest bankruptcies is organized by assets at time of bankruptcy. Therefore, they are not in inflation-adjusted terms, meaning the list skews towards more recent events.

This makes the impact of the 2008 financial crisis particularly easy to spot.

The events and consequences relating to the crisis (loan defaults, illiquidity, and declining asset values) were enough to take down banks like Lehman Brothers and WaMu. The after effects – including a slumping global economy – led to a second wave of bankruptcies for companies such as GM and Chrysler.

In total, nine of the 20 biggest bankruptcies on the list occurred in the 2008-2009 span.

A Dubious Distinction

You may also notice that one company was on the list twice, and this was not an accident.

Pacific Gas & Electric, a California company that is the nation’s largest utility provider, has the dubious distinction of going bankrupt twice in the last 20 years. The first time, in 2001, resulted from a drought that limited hydro electricity generation, forcing the company to import electricity from outside sources at exorbitant prices.

The more recent instance happened earlier this year. Facing tens of billions of dollars in liabilities from raging wildfires in California, the utility filed for Chapter 11 protection yet another time.

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Where Are the Oldest Companies in Existence?

Which companies have stood the test of time? This detailed map highlights the oldest company in every country that is still in business.

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Where Are the Oldest Companies in Existence?

View the high resolution version of this infographic by clicking here.

In just a few decades, it’s possible that some of today’s most recognized companies may no longer be household names.

Corporate longevity, or the average lifespan of a company, has been shrinking dramatically.

In the 1960s, a typical S&P 500 company was projected to last for more than 60 years. However, with the rapidly transforming business landscape today, it’s down to just 18 years.

The Companies With the Strongest Staying Power

Even with companies skewing younger, there are always exceptions to the rule.

Luckily, many companies around the world have stood the test of time, and today’s detailed map from Business Financing highlights the oldest company in existence in each country.

For centuries, here are the world’s oldest corporations which have made their mark:

YearCompany NameCountryIndustry
578Kongō Gumi Co., Ltd.JapanConstruction
803St.  Peter Stifts KulinariumAustriaService Industry (Restaurant)
862Staffelter HofGermanyDistillers, Vintners, & Breweries (Winery)
864Monnaie de ParisFranceManufacturing & Production (Mint)
886The Royal MintEnglandManufacturing & Production (Mint)
900Sean’s BarIrelandService Industry (Pub)
1040Pontificia Fonderia MarinelliItalyManufacturing & Production (Bell foundry)
1074Affligem BreweryBelgiumDistillers, Vintners, & Breweries
1135Munke MølleDenmarkManufacturing & Production (Flour Mill)
1153Ma Yu Ching’s Bucket Chicken HouseChinaService Industry (Restaurant)

Whether they were born out of necessity to support a rapidly growing population—requiring new infrastructure and more money circulation—or simply to satisfy peoples’ thirst for alcohol or hunger for fried chicken, these companies continue to play a lasting role.

The Oldest Company in Every Country, by Region

Let’s dive into the regional maps, which paint a different picture for each continent.

In the following maps, countries are color-coded based on the major industry that the oldest company falls under:

  • Primary: Natural resources
  • Secondary: Manufacturing and processing
  • Tertiary: Services and distribution
  • Quaternary: Knowledge and information

Notes on Methodology:

This research considers both state-run and independent businesses in their definitions. For countries where data was hard to pin down, they have been grayed out.

As well, since many countries have a relatively new inception, present-day names and borders have been used. The map does not factor in older companies that are no longer in operation, or if it was unclear whether they were still open.

Click here to explore the full research methodology.

Oldest Company in every country in North America

North America

Mexico’s La Casa de Moneda de México (founded 1534) is the oldest company across North America, and the first mint of America. Owned by the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés, it was where the famous ‘pieces of eight’, or Spanish dollars were created.

In the U.S., the Shirley Plantation in Virginia is an ongoing reminder of the history of slavery. First founded in 1613, business actually began in 1638—and as many as 90 slaves were under indentured labor on the estate growing tobacco.

Further north, Canada’s Hudson’s Bay (founded 1670) was at the helm of the fur trade between European settlers and First Nations tribes—the two parties agreed on beaver pelts as a common, valuable trade standard.

Oldest Company in every country in North America

South America

Three of the five oldest companies in South America are mints—specifically in Brazil, Colombia, and Peru.

The oldest of these mints, Casa Nacional de Moneda in Peru, was built on order from Spain and established in 1565. After the great influx of newly-mined silver from America to Europe, the Spanish crown outlined to King Felipe II that building a mint would give the colony economic benefits and more control.

Oldest Company in every country in Europe

Europe

In total, 15 of Europe’s oldest companies are related to the food and beverage industries, from distilleries, vintners (winemaking), and breweries alongside restaurants and pubs. Austria’s St. Peter Stifts Kulinarium (founded in 803) is Europe’s oldest restaurant, located inside the St. Peter’s Abbey monastery.

Although Germany is famously known for its beer culture, its oldest company is in fact the Staffelter Hof Winery (founded in 862). Today, Germany is still a top wine country, with the industry generating up to $17 billion in revenue per year.

Oldest Company in every country in Asia

Asia

Asia has six oldest companies in the banking and finance category, as well as another six in the aviation and transport sector. The continent is also home to two of the world’s oldest companies, located in Japan and China.

The Japanese temple and shrine construction company, Kongō Gumi Co., Ltd. (founded in 578) has weathered a few storms over the millennia, from nuclear bombs to financial crises. In 2006, it was bought by the construction conglomerate, Takamatsu Construction Group Co., and continues to operate today.

In neighboring China, Ma Yu Ching’s Bucket Chicken House has endured dynasties of change as well. The company’s simple premise has come a long way, and it was named a cultural heritage in the country’s Henan Province.

Oldest Company in every country in Africa

Africa

Africa’s oldest companies are another vestige of the colonial legacy, with 11 transport companies—airlines, ports and shipping, and railways—and 9 postal services.

In fact, Cape Verde’s Correios de Cabo Verde (postal service, founded in 1849) and the DRC’s Société nationale des Chemins de fer du Congo (national railway company, founded in 1889) still go by their Portuguese and French names respectively.

Banking is another one of the oldest industries, with 17 companies across Africa. Zimbabwe’s Standard Chartered branch has been around since 1892, a subsidiary of its London-based parent company.

Oldest Company in every country in Oceania

Oceania

Australia officially became a country on January 1st, 1901—but its oldest company, the Australia Post (founded in 1809) precedes this by almost a century.

Interestingly, just one more old company could be located for this region, which is the Bank of New Zealand—one of the country’s Big Four banks.

All in all, these oldest companies paint a historical picture of the major industries which have shaped entire regions.

Did you recognize any on the list?

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Business

Flying High: The Top Ten Airline Routes by Revenue

This visualization tracks the high-value routes that generate the most revenue for airlines – primarily links between the world’s financial centers

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Flying High: The Top 10 Airline Routes by Revenue

The airline industry is a tough business. Profit margins are narrow, airplanes are expensive to run and maintain, and government regulation and taxation can be onerous and unpredictable.

In addition, demand can stall by the outbreak of disease, recession, war, or terrorism. So when a company has a winning airline route, it makes all the difference to a company’s bottom line.

Today’s visualization uses data from OAG Aviation Worldwide, which tracked the airline routes that generated the most revenue from April 2018 to March 2019.

Top 10 Highest Revenue Routes by Airline

North American routes dominate the global rankings. However, it is the connections from the U.S Northeast and Europe that generate the most revenue and often the most delays.

Only one route breaks the billion dollar barrier: British Airways’ service between London Heathrow Airport (LHR) and New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK).

AirlineAirport PairCountriesTotal Revenue US$ 2018/19
British AirwaysJFK-LHR🇺🇸🇬🇧$1,159,126,794
Qantas AirlinesMEL-SYD🇦🇺$849,260,322
EmiratesLHR-DXB🇬🇧🇦🇪$796,201,645
Singapore AirlinesLHR-SIN🇬🇧🇸🇬$735,597,614
United AirlinesSFO-EWR🇺🇸$689,371,368
American AirlinesLAX-JFK🇺🇸$661,739,368
Qatar AirwaysLHR-DOH🇬🇧🇶🇦$639,122,609
Cathay Pacific AirwaysHKG-LHR🇭🇰🇬🇧$604,595,063
Singapore AirlinesSYD-SIN🇦🇺🇸🇬$549,711,946
Air CanadaYVR-YYZ🇨🇦$541,122,509

Air Canada’s route between Vancouver and Toronto bottoms out the list with $541 million of revenue in 2019. Low population density, high infrastructure costs, and an aviation industry that is essentially an oligopoly, are all factors driving up ticket costs in Canada.

North America, Top 10 Highest Revenue Routes by Airline

Here’s a look at only the top-grossing routes connected to North America, including the prior ones that made the global list.

AirlineAirport PairCountriesTotal Revenue US$ 2018/19
British AirwaysJFK-LHR🇺🇸🇬🇧$1,159,126,794
United AirlinesSFO-EWR🇺🇸$689,371,368
American AirlinesLAX-JFK🇺🇸$661,739,788
Air CanadaYVR-YYZ🇨🇦$541,122,509
British AirwaysBOS-LHR🇺🇸🇬🇧$523,527,241
Air FranceJFK-CDG🇺🇸🇫🇷$486,378,698
United AirlinesLAX-EWR🇺🇸$479,908,312
Cathay Pacific AirwaysJFK-HKG🇺🇸🇭🇰$475,514,451
Delta Air LinesLAX-JFK🇺🇸$465,130,366
British AirwaysLAX-LHR🇺🇸🇬🇧$452,136,502

Transcontinental routes dominate the domestic market with LAX–JFK appearing twice in the ranking for both American and Delta Air Lines.

Asia, Top 10 Highest Revenue Routes by Airline

Despite Asia’s rise as an economic superpower, there are no routes that break the billion dollar barrier. Singapore Airlines’ Singapore (SIN) to London’s Heathrow (LHR) tops the list, generating $736 million in 2019.

AirlineAirport PairCountriesTotal Revenue US$ 2018/19
Singapore AirlinesSIN-LHR🇸🇬🇬🇧$735,597,614
Cathay Pacific AirlinesHKG-LHR🇭🇰🇬🇧$604,595,063
Singapore AirlinesSIN-SYD🇸🇬🇦🇺$549,711,946
Vietnam AirlinesSGN-HAN🇻🇳$488,487,259
Cathay Pacific AirlinesHKG-JFK🇭🇰🇺🇸$475,514,451
Japan AirlinesOKA-HND🇯🇵$447,224,346
Singapore AirlinesCGK-SIN🇮🇩🇸🇬$436,905,694
Japan AirlinesFUK-HND🇯🇵$431,457,469
Singapore AirlinesSIN-MEL🇸🇬🇦🇺$414,276,407
Cathay Pacific AirlinesHKG-SIN🇭🇰🇸🇬$389,910,239

The routes that dominate Asia connect the financial hubs of London, New York, Singapore, and Hong Kong. There are also two domestic routes in Japan, connecting both Fukuoka (FUK) and Okinawa (OKA) to Tokyo’s Haneda (HND) airport.

Africa, Top 10 Highest Revenue Routes by Airline

At the top of the ranking in Africa is Johannesburg (JNB) to Dubai International Airport (DXB) with revenues of $315 million. Dubai has become an important hub for high value flights arriving and departing Africa, a position that may prove profitable as air traffic on the continent increases in coming years.

AirlineAirport PairCountriesTotal Revenue US$ 2018/19
EmiratesJNB-DXB🇿🇦🇦🇪$315,678,326
British AirwaysJNB-LHR🇿🇦🇬🇧$295,167,492
Saudi Arabian AirlinesCAI-JED🇪🇬🇸🇦$242,155,949
TAAG Angola AirlinesLAD-LIS🇦🇴🇵🇹$231,155,949
South African AirlinesJNB-CPT🇿🇦$184,944,128
EmiratesCAI-DXB🇪🇬🇦🇪$181,392,011
EmiratesCPT-DXB🇿🇦🇦🇪$176,743,498
Air FranceABJ-CDG🇨🇮🇫🇷$174,986,272
British AirwaysCPT-LHR🇿🇦🇬🇧$174,605,201
EmiratesMRU-DXB🇲🇺🇦🇪$163,952,609

Despite the smaller earnings compared to larger markets, some airline companies see the potential for growth in Africa. Virgin Atlantic will fly a route between London’s Heathrow and Cape Town in South Africa, while Qatar Airlines acquired a stake in RwandAir.

Financial Hubs

The cities that appear in the top revenue ranking are revealing. Since business and first class travelers are such an important revenue driver, it makes sense that connections between the world’s financial hubs are delivering big value to airlines.

As Asian and African economies continue to evolve, what route could be the next billion dollar route for airlines?

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