Warren Buffet is the quintessential billionaire. He’s written books and given inspirational talks on the secrets to success. Throughout his long life, he’s energized generations of people. His company, Berkshire Hathaway, is one of the most successful in the world. In 2019, it grossed $247,847,000,000.
What exactly is Berkshire Hathaway? It’s a conglomerate that owns different companies which you probably use regularly. These companies include Dairy Queen, Duracell, GEICO, Fruit of the Loom, Pampered Chef, and many others, including the Berkshire Hathaway real estate sector. Its growth has slowed down recently as Buffet has declined to make more acquisitions lately. He declared in May of 2020 that nothing looked profitable. Given the uncertainties over the crisis, he may have had a point.
Surprisingly, tech companies did not make the top 10 at all. Apple and Google are some of the most valuable companies in the world and have more power than some governments. But Apple did not earn as much revenue in 2019 as companies like Wal-Mart and petrochemical giants, grossing a paltry $265,595,000,000. Nevertheless, it remains one of the most profitable companies in the United States and one of the world’s most valuable companies.
Apple certainly has its share of controversies, including that it automatically makes its technology obsolete after several years and that much of its technology is not compatible with non-Apple products. But just as the crisis of 2020 began, it introduced a new iPhone that cost under $400, proving that it could keep up with what consumers want. We’ll have to see how it comes out of the present crisis.
Like Toyota, Volkswagen is an automaker with a reputation for producing fuel-efficient cars. Staples include the Beatle and the Jetta. Some people are getting excited about the revived hippie bus from the 1970s, that Volkswagen plans to bring back in 2022. In 2019, the company grossed $275,200,000,000.
With a focus on fuel-efficient and electric vehicles, Volkswagen may survive the economic collapse of 2022, but not without changes. The company is based in Germany and sells many of its cars in Europe. This area was hit hard early in the crisis and nearly had a complete shutdown. Concerns of a second wave prompted Europe to close their borders again, further limiting how much people drive. The company may have to reorganize and focus more on all-electric vehicles to survive the economic collapse and concern about climate change.
Most of the companies on this list have been energy companies so far. Unsurprisingly, there are also several automakers on this list. After all, oil isn’t worth much if people aren’t using it to fuel their cars. Toyota was the highest-grossing automaker of 2019 and started 2020 at the top, having earned $280,500,000.
Toyota, a Japanese company, has a reputation for building very fuel-efficient cars. It led the way in hybrid vehicles with the introduction of its Prius. Toyota’s fuel efficiency may help it stay at the top of the line as people continue looking for more fuel-efficient and electric cars. The economic collapse of 2020 may take a heavy toll, as people have had to forego car purchases they were planning to make. A high number of layoffs with unprecedented uncertainty about the future and less driving in general may deal Toyota a blow it won’t ever fully recover from.
Petroleum companies have dominated the list of highest-earning companies going into 2020. Exxon-Mobil is no exception. Like Saudi Aramco, Exxon-Mobil formed out of the re-organization of the Standard Oil company that John D. Rockefeller ran at the turn of the twentieth century. Today, it is one of the leaders in petrochemicals and one of the world’s highest-earning companies, having grossed $265,500,000,000 in the year 2019.
Many petrochemical companies are facing a considerable crunch due to the economic crisis of 2020. When the crisis began, oil prices dropped precipitously because people were no longer driving cars and no longer had disposable income. There were even times when oil prices went negative because there was such a surplus of oil that companies were running out of places to store it. We’ll keep an eye on what happens with Exxon-Mobile and other petrochemical companies coming out of this crisis. Maybe they will turn to renewable energy to stay afloat.
In 2010, some questioned the future of BP right after the Deepwater Horizon explosion on one of its oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. Several people died in the initial explosion, but what caused the world to tune in to what was happening was the massive oil leak that came afterward. Millions of barrels of oil gushed through the oil well straight into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and killed countless wildlife, while also decimating local economies that rely on fishing and tourism. BP has made a comeback, though. In 2019, it grossed $278,400,000,000.
Among petroleum companies, BP seems to be leading the way to clean air and reduce the amount of carbon through carbon offsets. Yet the initiatives have their critics – many see BP as responsible for much of the air pollution and high level of carbon in the atmosphere. They think that BP should be cleaning it instead of recommending that individuals buy carbon offsets. We’ll have to wait and see what happens with the petroleum companies at the top of the highest-earning companies.
If you have driven along a highway or around town, you’ve probably seen a Shell gas station. There is a lot more to Shell than pumping gas and buying snacks. The company formed through a merger of The Royal Dutch Petroleum Company and The Shell Transport And Trading Company back in 1907. Only combined forces could present any challenge to the Standard Oil juggernaut. Today, the company is known as Royal Dutch Shell, or just Shell, and is headquartered at The Hague in The Netherlands. It also has the largest market share of gas stations in the world. In 2019, Shell grossed $311,600,000 in revenue.
Shell owns and operates dozens of refineries and has active drilling and exploration projects in at least 80 countries. Concern about global warming and a public push to invest in renewable energy sources, instead of burning the fossil fuels that cause global warming, will likely upset Shell’s business interests. But it is already pushing solar energy as one of its assets to remain one of the highest-earning companies for the foreseeable future.
Another state-run company out of China, China National Petroleum was one of the highest-earning companies before the crises hit 2020. We’ll have to wait and see which companies will be the highest-companies coming out. In 2019, China National Petroleum grossed $364,100,000,000 by conducting its business exploring and developing oil fields.
While the Chinese communist state owns the company, like other energy companies in China, it has also been conducting business internationally. China National Petroleum has been exploring and developing oil fields in countries known to be rich in black gold, including Russia, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Oman, Sudan, Venezuela, and Peru. Yet as the world is trying to move away from fossil fuels and develop renewable energy sources, the fate of China National Petroleum may come into question.
Saudi Aramco is the state-run petroleum company of Saudi Arabia. It developed out of John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil, which began exploring the Arabian peninsula’s deserts in the search for oil during the early 1900s. Today it may be the highest-earning company in the world, but it’s a bit of an enigma. One reason is that before 2019 it never appeared in the Fortune 500 list of companies, even though its revenue for 2019 was $329,800,000,000. Before 2019, it never released its financial statements.
Aramco had been listed on the Arab stock exchange Tadawul, and by the time it released its financial statements in 2019, it claimed a net income of over $100 billion – over double that of Apple. It may be the most valuable company in the world, with a market value of nearly two trillion dollars.
Aramco funds the Saudi state, meaning that it relies almost exclusively on oil to fuel its economy. Expect to see turmoil in the region, particularly in Saudi Arabia and with its Aramco company, if demand for oil drops due to environmental concerns and the crises of 2020.
State Grid is another state-run energy company in communist China. In 2019, it grossed $387,000,000,000. The company formed about the same time as Sinopec, when the communist government reformed its energy sector in the 1980s. Unsurprisingly, it has a monopoly on the Chinese power grid, and it runs regional power grids throughout the country.
It may be surprising that State Grid also runs power grids in other countries, including Brazil and the Philippines. Some of their grids are run under different names; even in China, five different companies fall under State Grid. State Grid could easily continue to see its revenue increase and its international market growth, especially if it switches to renewable energy sources, such as solar, hydro, and wind, to power its grids.
Sinopec, or China Petroleum and Chemical Corporation, is a company you may have never heard of but that’s out-earning almost every other company in the world. In 2019, the state-owned oil and gas exploration and refining giant grossed $369,200,000,000. However, appearances can be deceiving, given that its former president received the death penalty in 2009 for bribery.
The future of Sinopec Group, along with other petroleum companies, is certainly in question, given concerns over the environmental crisis and climate change. Many are choosing to divest from oil and gas and invest their money elsewhere. Nevertheless, China has a history of surprising the world with its industrial durability and ability to master the state-run communist economy.
However you may feel about different controversies surrounding Wal-Mart, it was the most profitable company in the world at the beginning of 2020, grossing $524,000,000,000 the previous year. It placed well above Amazon, which many now consider its most significant competitor. Unlike Amazon, which specializes in quickly delivering low-cost items to people’s homes, Wal-Mart has not adjusted rapidly to a delivery platform.
There are concerns about the future of Wal-Mart, despite its status as the most popular of any low-price chain store. One is that given its immense size and reliance on bureaucratic processes getting filtered down to local stores, it cannot adapt quickly to changes. Adaptability will probably be a key asset moving forward, so Wal-Mart may collapse under its weight. Another concern is that it does not pay store employees a living wage and has not adapted environmentally friendly practices.
“TOP 10 Most Profitable Companies in the World in 2020.” FXSSI. May 26, 2020.
“Most Profitable Businesses in 2020.” Fortune 500.