The companies on the 2019 Forbes Global 2000, our annual ranking of the world’s largest public companies, account for more than $40 trillion in revenue this year and more than $186 million in global assets. Companies are ranked according a composite score from equally-weighted measures of the revenue, profits, assets and market value, and the results reveal the major trends shaping the global economy this year.
The United States and China Face Off
Steep market selloffs and retaliatory tariffs are the latest developments in mounting trade tensions between the United States and China. If ever there’s been a tipping point in the economic tug-of-war between the world’s largest economies, it’s now. 61 countries earned a spot on this annual ranking of the world’s largest companies, but the concentration of power is undoubtedly in favor of the U.S. and China.
In the top 10 bracket, the U.S. and China were two of the only three countries that added companies to the Global 2000 since last year. The U.S. now has 575 companies on the list, up 16 from 559 last year and adding just two fewer than China, which had 18 additions this year.
The overall trend is clear: despite facing slowing GDP growth and multi-billion-dollar Trump tariffs, the world’s second-largest economy and its largest manufacturing hub continues to strengthen its presence on the Global 2000. For the first time ever, China makes the most appearances out of any other country in the top 10. Its five entries best the U.S.’ four after storied U.S. conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway tumbled out of the top rankings.
Berkshire’s balance sheet saw a major writedown in the fourth quarter thanks to its major holding Kraft Heinz, which restated $181 million of its financials and fell more than 400 spots to #548 in the global rankings.
Back when the Global 2000 was first released in 2003, China and Hong Kong had just 43 companies on the list, compared to 776 from the United States.
Elsewhere in the top ranks, Canada overtook Germany to claim the #8 spot after adding 6 companies to the list. There were no other shifts in the more-saturated top 10 countries, which now cumulatively represent more than 75% of the list in terms of assets.
Banking and finance are the most represented industries on the list this year, with 453 companies, or just over one-fifth of all entries, falling into those categories. Most U.S. banks had good year, riding a wave of rising profits thanks to major tax cuts. JPMorgan and Bank of America both climbed in the rankings, while Wells Fargo, in the wake of a major scandal involving shady sales practices, fell from #7 to #10.
Construction firms like the China State Construction Engineering Corp. make up the next most populous industry category. 35% of the 123 companies in this category are from China, which has experienced a major infrastructure boom over the last decade. Oil and gas companies are next up, followed by insurance companies and materials companies like U.S. aluminum producer Alcoa.
When it comes to oil & gas, the law of supply and demand holds as true as ever: strong prices over the past year and strengthening demand in the face of uncertain supply pushed up profits across the sector.
And if JPMorgan’s $3.7 billion tax cut windfall was any indication, it’s no surprise that banks saw the second-largest leap on profit over the past year. One notable outlier is Italy’s Intesa Sanpaolo, which dropped 69 spots on the list after its profits fell by more than half.