The largest company in the world can fluctuate day to day, even minute by minute, depending what measurement is used, but these giants compete vigorously—and are among the world's most admire companies.
With Apple’s stock hitting new highs after announcing its latest innovation—in the burgeoning field of virtual reality products—the company is unlikely to be dislodged from its position as the world’s largest company by market capitalization any time soon. Yet it has, over the years, lost the title of world’s largest many times—to Microsoft, to Amazon, even to Saudi Arabia’s Aramco. What about Google and Facebook (pardon, Meta)? Only a few companies legitimately compete for the title of most valuable publicly traded company and yet the types of companies that top the list change with the times.
Market capitalization can change quickly, and the years have seen much see-saw in the rankings of the world’s biggest companies. Microsoft has dethroned Apple a few times, most recently in October 2021. Amazon’s market cap surpassed both of those giants in January 2019.
For years, Apple—also one of the world’s most admired companies—has seen its market cap fall victim to its sales success. While the popularity with consumers of products like iPhones, iMacs and tablets propelled Apple to new heights, whenever sales appeared to slow, its market capitalization suffered.
By contrast, Microsoft built itself into one of the world’s largest companies with a focus on steady recurring revenue streams. You might not need a new smartphone or laptop every year, but a software license, Cloud-computing package or videogame subscription, means ongoing payments—and client stickiness.
Then Apple started borrowing from Microsoft’s playbook: It launched news and games subscriptions, a video streaming service, and even its own credit card. Once Apple moved beyond hardware to software and services, its revenue growth became unstoppable. On January 3, 2022, Apple became the first company ever to surpass $3 trillion in market value, and it remains the world’s largest today.
MARKET CAP LEADERS CHANGE WITH THE TIMES
Right behind Apple is Saudi Aramco as the world’s second biggest company and a bit of an outlier in the top 10. Until a decade ago, many of the most valuable companies were traditional long-standing blue-chip industrial behemoths like Exxon and Chevron, General Electric, AT&T. Saudi Aramco isn’t entirely alone: oil giant ExxonMobil (market cap around $440 billion) is hanging on in the top 20.
Not surprisingly, healthcare and finance are represented in the top ranks. Berkshire Hathaway leads with a market value of around $728 billion; Visa makes the top 20 with a market cap of $465 billion. US healthcare giants UnitedHealth ($455 billion) and Eli Lilly ($420 billion) are also in the top 20, along with Denmark’s Novo Nordisk ($353 billion)
Yet the top 10 are almost all considered tech companies, even if they make things (Tesla) or sell things (Amazon). Indeed, most of the world’s corporate titans are tech giants that have turned devices into steady and predictable revenue streams. Amazon, Google (parent company: Alphabet) and even Tesla (which has monthly fees for its autopilot and self-driving features, as well as for its premium connectivity package) are certainly among them. Meta, parent company of Facebook, is among the top 20. Expectations today are that the future of world business will be driven by data, AI, personal computers and other technology. Today the top 5 are all tech companies with market cap over $1 trillion, and make up roughly 20% of the S&P 500 index’s entire market value.
LARGEST COMPANIES AROUND THE WORLD
Although US-based firms dominate the top 20, the world is well represented. In addition to Saudi Aramco as second largest company overall, and Novo Nordisk in healthcare, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing (TSMC) comes in strong with a market value of $530 billion. French luxury retailer LVMH, which in May 2023 became the first European company to surpass a market value of $500 billion, is also among the world’s most valuable companies.
Another noteworthy company in the top ranks is NVIDIA, a specialist in gaming, AI and semiconductors, which recently saw its stock soar to a market capitalization over $1 trillion. Its value has been supported by interest and partnership deals with Microsoft, as well as the widespread expectation that AI will be a major source of revenue and growth in the global economy going forward.
Successful strategy (and product, and timing, and management) aside, the total dollar value of a company’s outstanding shares can be affected by a myriad of other unpredictable factors. It was not too long ago when a controversial tweet by former US President Donald Trump could send US market cap spiraling downward or soaring to new highs—without much rationale to support the move. Any Federal Reserve Chairman can upend stock prices with a few words.
Tesla, which makes electric vehicles, began 2022 as the world’s fifth biggest company by market capitalization, and ended the year in 11th place after CEO Elon Musk’s decision to acquire Twitter.
WORLD EVENTS VS STRONG FUNDAMENTALS
And then there are unforeseeable and unpredictable events like the Covid-19 pandemic. So-called stay-at-home companies in e-commerce and digital platforms gained sales and revenue as shutdowns demanded use of new technologies. Tourism stocks and live entertainment services plummeted. When vaccines became available and the world economy slowly re-opened, revenue flows shifted again.
Focusing too closely on ever-changing share prices, investor sentiment and world events rather than on underlying fundamentals can be misleading. Warren Buffet, the chairman of Berkshire Hathaway (5th most valuable company and among the world’s most admired companies), famously said that the stock market is a device for transferring money from the impatient to the patient. Even in these tumultuous times many businesses—and especially successful companies well established in their industries, such as Microsoft, Google or Saudi Aramco—are not dramatically different in terms of assets, market share, revenues, cash flow, headcount or even technologies, than they were until a year or two ago.
The entities listed here are not just the world’s largest companies, they are also many of the world’s most admired companies. But they are not admired because they are the largest, but for their diverse range of offerings, technology innovation, historic past, wise management, customer or investor services. In short, these are companies that deliver for customers and investors; they grow.
|Top 10 Largest Companies in 2022 by Market Capitalizationa|
|2||Saudi Aramco||Saudi Arabia||Energy||2,170|
|10||Johnson & Johnson||U.S.||Consumer Services||428|
|aAs of September 2, 2022.|
|Top 10 of the 2022 Fortune Global 500a|
|Rank||Company||Country||Revenues ($ Mil.)||Revenues (% Change)||Profits ($ Mil.)||Profits (% Change)|
|4||China National Petroleum||China||411,693||45.0||9,638||110.6|
|6||Saudi Aramco||Saudi Arabia||400,399||74.3||105,369||113.8|
|9||China State Construction Engineering||China||293,712||25.3||4,444||24.2|
|aFiscal year ended on or before March 31, 2022.|
|Top 10 of the 2022 Forbes Global 2000a|
|Rank||Company||Country||Revenues ($ Bil.)||Profits ($ Bil.)||Assets ($ Bil.)||Market Value ($ Bil.)|
|1||Berkshire Hathaway||United States||276||90||959||741|
|3||Saudi Aramco||Saudi Arabia||400||105||576||2,292|
|4||JPMorgan Chase||United States||125||42||3,955||374|
|5||China Construction Bank||China||202||47||4,747||181|
|8||Agricultural Bank of China||China||181||37||4,561||133|
|9||Bank of America||United States||87||31||3,238||303|
|aData as of April 22, 2022.|