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EDITORIAL COMMENT: Fresh Data Highlights Eastward Shift Of Business, Financial Power

Tom Burroughes, Group Editor , 8 May 2015


There is yet more evidence that Asia-based firms are part of a shift of economic gravity to the East.

While risks to China’s economic prowess remain, it is perhaps worth taking occasional stock of the sort of figures that highlight how the centre of economic gravity are shifting eastwards. At a time when countries such as the UK are gazing at their political navels – we may have a confusing result by the time this article goes to press – the rise of Asia, and the lessons that it holds, are rather more momentous.

A case in point is the release by Forbes, the business magazine, of its 13th Annual Global 2000 list, a ranking of the largest, most powerful and valuable companies in the world. It shows that China now boasts the world’s four largest companies and has five of the top 10 spots for the second year running. Last year, Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce conglomerate, made Asian IPO history by its $25 billion-plus initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange, a liquidity event that has no doubt set wealth managers drooling.

The Forbes rankings are based on measures such as sales, profits, assets and market value. The Global 2000 companies have a total of $39 trillion in revenues, $3 trillion in profits, $162 trillion in assets and $48 trillion in market value.

The top five companies on the 2015 Global 2000 list are Industrial & Commercial Bank of China (this publication recently interviewed it about its wealth management ambitions); China Construction Bank; Agricultural Bank of China; Bank of China. The fifth is the first non-China firm in the list – Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway (and unlike the first four, it isn’t a bank). 

Forbes notes that notable newcomers to its list include Dalian Wanda Commercial Properties (operated by China’s richest man, Wang Jianlin); Electronic Arts; Nippon Paint (Asia’s largest paint manufacturer); Expedia; Axel Springer; Amorepacific (South Korea’s largest cosmetic player); and Tiffany & Co. Other gainers in the list include the social media titan Facebook, which increased more than 200 spots in this year’s ranking due to rising revenue and profits; American Airlines; Starbucks; and Monster Beverage.

For all the ascendancy of Chinese and other Asian businesses, it is, even so, worth putting some of these gains in wider perspective. The US still has the most firms in the Forbes list, at 579, way ahead of mainland China and Hong Kong, at 232; followed by Japan, at 218; the UK, at 94; and South Korea, at 66. Another way of thinking about this is that Europe isn’t in the top five for such firms, a sign of how that region has languished in some ways over the past decade.

In other words, China is ascending and its firms are among the richest, biggest and most prominent in their fields. The US still grabs most of the numbers, but the tectonic plates of the global economy continue to shift eastward. And if HSBC and Standard Chartered move their corporate headquarters out of the UK and to places such as Hong Kong, the shift might even break into the seemingly parochial concerns of the UK political class and voters.

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