Infographic: The Top U.S. Companies by Import and Export Volume
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Top U.S. Companies by Import and Export Volume

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Nothing has transformed our economy quite like containerized shipping.

From Rotterdam to Singapore, we see tangible evidence of the world’s bustling maritime shipping network as cranes load and unload uniform containers in a flurry of activity. The efficiency of this system has massively impacted the global economy, but this uniformity has also had the unintended consequence of anonymizing shipping. From the outside looking in, there’s no indication of who’s actually doing the shipping.

Today’s graphic, using data from JOC, highlights the actual companies behind the United States’ import–export numbers.

Outgoing: Recyclables and Raw Materials

While companies like Procter & Gamble and Caterpillar export a high volume of consumer goods and equipment, the export market is dominated by bulk materials, natural resources, and chemicals.

Here are the top 20 companies by export volume (20-foot equivalent units, or TEUs):

RankCompanyTEU (2017)Sector
1America Chung Nam284,500📄 Paper
♻️ Recyclables
2International Paper248,400📄 Paper
📦 Packaging
3Ralison International130,100📄 Paper
♻️ Recyclables
4Koch Industries120,800💼 Conglomerate
5International Forest Products109,400🌲 Paper/Forest Products
♻️ Recyclables
6DeLong106,600🐮 Animal Feed
🌾 Grain
7WM Recycle America75,300💼 Diversified
♻️ Recyclables
8Shintech73,800🛢 Chemicals
9Louis Dreyfus Commodities68,200⚪️ Cotton
💼 Diversified
10WestRock66,300📄 Paper
📦 Packaging
11JBS USA65,400🍖 Meats
🍗 Poultry
12ExxonMobil Chemical63,400🛢 Chemicals
13Newport CH International62,100♻️ Recyclables
14BMW of North America61,600🚘 Automotive Goods
15Cargill57,500💼 Conglomerate
16JC Horizon55,600♻️ Recyclables
17Eastman Chemical53,800🛢 Chemicals/Plastics
18Potential Industries51,600📄 Paper
♻️ Recyclables
19Domtar48,100🌲 Paper/Forest Products
20Sims Metal Management47,700⚙️ Metals
♻️ Recyclables

Note: TEU = Twenty-foot equivalent unit, a measure of volume in units of twenty-foot long shipping containers.

Though exporters of recyclable materials feature prominently on this list, there may be a shake-up coming in the near future.

China’s Recycling Diet

In Western countries, people often assume that their top export by volume is a high-value manufactured good or, at very least, a natural resource like timber or oil. The truth is, a sizable portion of exports from Western countries are waste materials.

This isn’t a new trend. In 2009, nine of the top 20 exporters in the U.S. were sending recyclable materials overseas – particularly to China.

This convenient trade relationship, where ships bring consumer goods to America and return filled with recyclable materials, is being disrupted in a big way. In 2018, China launched Operation National Sword, which could potentially tie a knot in the steady pipeline of waste materials being imported into the country.

For now, countries like Vietnam and Thailand have picked up some of the slack, but before long, Western countries will need to take a serious look at beefing up domestic recycling programs.

Incoming: The Stuff We Buy

On the other end of the equation are the consumer goods that get purchased every day.

In modern society, there’s a very good chance the items around you right now were not built in the country you live in. While many companies import goods from overseas, a few major players move a staggering volume of goods through America’s ports.

Here are the top 20 companies by import volume (TEUs):

RankCompanyTEUs (2017)Sector
1Walmart874,800🛒 Retail
2Target590,300🛒 Retail
3Home Depot388,000🛒 Retail
4Lowe's287,500🛒 Retail
5Dole Food220,200🍍 Produce
6Samsung America184,800💼 Conglomerate
7Family Dollar / Dollar Tree168,400🛒 Retail
8LG Group161,600💼 Conglomerate
9Philips Electronics N.A.142,900📺 Electronics
10IKEA International120,500🛒 Retail
11Chiquita Brands Int'l117,500🍌 Produce
12Nike116,300👞 Footwear / Apparel
13Newell Brands115,400🍶 Outdoor / Home Goods
14Costco Wholesale111,700🛒 Retail
15Sears Holdings103,200🛒 Retail
16J.C. Penney101,100🛒 Retail
17General Electric92,300💼 Conglomerate
18Ashley Furniture Industries85,700🛋 Furniture
19Whirlpool74,700🗄 Appliances
20Heineken USA73,100🍺 Beverages

In contrast to the top exporters list, the top importing companies are generally more recognizable names, such as Target, Home Depot, Dollar Tree, and Ikea.

It will come as no surprise that Walmart, the world’s biggest retailer by some margin, is also America’s top importer. In a single year, Walmart’s incoming goods would equate to nearly 50 of the industry’s largest fully-loaded cargo ships.

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Energy

The Periodic Table of Commodity Returns (2012-2021)

Energy fuels led the way as commodity prices surged in 2021, with only precious metals providing negative returns.

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The Periodic Table of Commodity Returns (2022 Edition)

For investors, 2021 was a year in which nearly every asset class finished in the green, with commodities providing some of the best returns.

The S&P Goldman Sachs Commodity Index (GSCI) was the third best-performing asset class in 2021, returning 37.1% and beating out real estate and all major equity indices.

This graphic from U.S. Global Investors tracks individual commodity returns over the past decade, ranking them based on their individual performance each year.

Commodity Prices Surge in 2021

After a strong performance from commodities (metals especially) in the year prior, 2021 was all about energy commodities.

The top three performers for 2021 were energy fuels, with coal providing the single best annual return of any commodity over the past 10 years at 160.6%. According to U.S. Global Investors, coal was also the least volatile commodity of 2021, meaning investors had a smooth ride as the fossil fuel surged in price.

Commodity2021 Returns
Coal160.61%
Crude Oil55.01%
Gas46.91%
Aluminum42.18%
Zinc31.53%
Nickel26.14%
Copper25.70%
Corn22.57%
Wheat20.34%
Lead18.32%
Gold-3.64%
Platinum-9.64%
Silver-11.72%
Palladium-22.21%

Source: U.S. Global Investors

The only commodities in the red this year were precious metals, which failed to stay positive despite rising inflation across goods and asset prices. Gold and silver had returns of -3.6% and -11.7% respectively, with platinum returning -9.6% and palladium, the worst performing commodity of 2021, at -22.2%.

Aside from the precious metals, every other commodity managed double-digit positive returns, with four commodities (crude oil, coal, aluminum, and wheat) having their best single-year performances of the past decade.

Energy Commodities Outperform as the World Reopens

The partial resumption of travel and the reopening of businesses in 2021 were both powerful catalysts that fueled the price rise of energy commodities.

After crude oil’s dip into negative prices in April 2020, black gold had a strong comeback in 2021 as it returned 55.01% while being the most volatile commodity of the year.

Natural gas prices also rose significantly (46.91%), with the UK and Europe’s natural gas prices rising even more as supply constraints came up against the winter demand surge.

Energy commodity returns 2021

Despite being the second worst performer of 2020 with the clean energy transition on the horizon, coal was 2021’s best commodity.

High electricity demand saw coal return in style, especially in China which accounts for one-third of global coal consumption.

Base Metals Beat out Precious Metals

2021 was a tale of two metals, as precious metals and base metals had opposing returns.

Copper, nickel, zinc, aluminum, and lead, all essential for the clean energy transition, kept up last year’s positive returns as the EV batteries and renewable energy technologies caught investors’ attention.

Demand for these energy metals looks set to continue in 2022, with Tesla having already signed a $1.5 billion deal for 75,000 tonnes of nickel with Talon Metals.

Metals price performance 2021

On the other end of the spectrum, precious metals simply sunk like a rock last year.

Investors turned to equities, real estate, and even cryptocurrencies to preserve and grow their investments, rather than the traditionally favorable gold (-3.64%) and silver (-11.72%). Platinum and palladium also lagged behind other commodities, only returning -9.64% and -22.21% respectively.

Grains Bring Steady Gains

In a year of over and underperformers, grains kept up their steady track record and notched their fifth year in a row of positive returns.

Both corn and wheat provided double-digit returns, with corn reaching eight-year highs and wheat reaching prices not seen in over nine years. Overall, these two grains followed 2021’s trend of increasing food prices, as the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s food price index reached a 10-year high, rising by 17.8% over the course of the year.

Grains price performance 2021

As inflation across commodities, assets, and consumer goods surged in 2021, investors will now be keeping a sharp eye for a pullback in 2022. We’ll have to wait and see whether or not the Fed’s plans to increase rates and taper asset purchases will manage to provide price stability in commodities.

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Technology

Apple’s Colossal Market Cap as it Hits $3 Trillion

Apple’s market cap recently hit $3 trillion. To put that scale into context, this visualization compares Apple to European indexes.

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Apple’s Colossal Market Cap in Context

In January of 2019, Apple’s market capitalization stood at $700 billion.

While this was perceived as a colossal figure at the time, when we fast forward to today, that valuation seems a lot more modest. Since then, Apple has surged to touch a $3 trillion valuation on January 3rd, 2022.

To gauge just how monstrous of a figure this is, consider that Apple is no longer comparable to just companies, but to countries and even entire stock indexes. This animation from James Eagle ranks the growth in Apple’s market cap alongside top indexes from the UK, France, and Germany.

Let’s take a closer look.

Apple Takes On Europe

The three indexes Apple is compared to are heavyweights in their own right.

The FTSE 100 consists of giants like HSBC and vaccine producer AstraZeneca, while the CAC 40 Index is home to LVMH, which made Bernard Arnault the richest man in the world for a period of time last year.

Nonetheless, Apple’s market cap exceeds that of the 100 companies in the FTSE, as well as the 40 in each of the CAC and DAX indexes.

Stock/IndexMarket Cap ($T)Country of Origin
Apple$3.00T🇺🇸
FTSE 100$2.90T🇬🇧
CAC 40 Index$2.76T🇫🇷
DAX 40 (Dax 30) Index*$2.50T🇩🇪

*Germany’s flagship DAX Index expanded from 30 to 40 constituents in September 2021.

It’s important to note, that while Apple’s growth is stellar, European companies have simultaneously seen a decline in their share of the overall global stock market, which helps make these comparisons even more eye-catching.

For example, before 2005, publicly-traded European companies represented almost 30% of global stock market capitalization, but those figures have been cut in half to just 15% today.

Here are some other approaches to measure Apple’s dominance.

Apple’s Revenue Per Minute vs Other Tech Giants

Stepping away from market capitalization, another unique way to measure Apple’s success is in how much sales they generate on a per minute basis. In doing so, we see that they generate a massive $848,090 per minute.

Here’s how Apple revenue per minute compares to other Big Tech giants:

CompanyRevenue Per Minute
Amazon$955,517
Apple$848,090
Alphabet (Google)$433,014
Microsoft$327,823
Facebook$213,628
Tesla$81,766
Netflix$50,566

Furthermore, Apple’s profits aren’t too shabby either: their $20.5 billion in net income last quarter equates to $156,000 in profits per minute.

How Apple Compares To Countries

Lastly, we can compare Apple’s market cap to the GDP of countries.

Country (excluding Apple)Total Value ($T)
Apple$3.0T
Italy$2.0T
Brazil$1.8T
Canada$1.7T
Russia$1.7T
South Korea$1.6T
Australia$1.4T
Spain$1.4T
Mexico$1.3T
Indonesia$1.1T

What might be most impressive here is that Apple’s market cap eclipses the GDP of major developed economies, such as Canada and Australia. That means the company is more valuable than the entire economic production of these countries in a calendar year.

That’s some serious scale.

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