As the world works to recover from more than a year in a pandemic, automaker Volkswagen has emerged as Europe’s largest company on this year’s Forbes Global 2000, a ranking of the world’s largest and most successful public companies.
Volkswagen, which supplanted last year’s European frontrunner Royal Dutch Shell, is the continent’s largest automaker with sports car brands like Audi, Bentley and Lamborghini to its eponymous mass market brand, and commercial vehicles Scania and MAN. Worth more than $145 billion, Volkswagen is off to a strong start in 2021: Sales in the first three months of this year rose 13% compared to a year earlier, to nearly $79 billion (62.4 billion euros).
The German automotive behemoth is followed by French bank BNP Paribas, food and beverage giant Nestlé, Britain’s HSBC Holdings and Germany’s Daimler.
Nestlé, which ranked at No. 6 in Europe last year, rose three spots to No. 3 among European companies and is worth over $330 billion. The Swiss maker of KitKat candy bars and Nescafé coffee weathered the pandemic relatively well thanks to high-growth categories that helped offset a decline of food sales in public-facing restaurants and cafes. In February, the company posted its highest sales growth in five years, fueled by a pandemic-induced boom in pet care and vitamins.
Volkswagen, based in Wolfsburg, isn’t the only German-based automaker to profit from soaring auto sales. Stuttgart-based Mercedes Benz-maker Daimler ranked No. 5 among Europe’s largest public companies, soaring through the ranks from No. 326 on last year’s global list to No. 41 this year. European new car registrations jumped in March by 87.3% year-on-year, according to data from the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association.
Pharmaceutical companies also made their way up the list. France’s Sanofi rose 45 spots to No. 72 globally, while Swiss multinational healthcare company Roche moved up from No. 74 to No. 60 globally.
The world’s largest luxury group, France’s LVMH, which appeared on the Global 2000 list for the first time last year, also climbed to No. 64 in the world. In April, the company reported that revenue jumped 32% in the first quarter of 2021 to $16.7 billion (14 billion euros), beating out 2019 numbers.
Like the rest of the world, Europe was hit hard by the virus, becoming an epicenter for cases throughout the past year. The economic impact is clear: For 2020 as a whole, GDP fell by 6.6% in the European Alliance and by 6.2% in the European Union, according to data from the European Parliament. Despite a slow start to vaccine rollouts, lockdowns are easing in some countries, and this week, the biggest European countries submitted plans for spending their share of up to approximately $973 billion (800 billion euro) in EU funding over the course of five years to help the region recover from the crisis.
Other notable companies among top-10 largest publicly traded companies in Europe were Deutsche Telekom at No. 44, insurer AXA at No. 54 and automaker Bayerische Motoren Werke at No. 61.
Europe’s large banks performed well due to strong operational performance through the disruption and rising inflation expectations as the world reopens. BNP Paribas, No. 30, HSBC, No. 40, UBS, No. 79, Intesa Sanpaolo, No. 82 all rose in our ranking and made the top-100 globally.
Forbes’ Global 2000 list is compiled using data from FactSet Research systems to screen for the biggest public companies in four metrics: sales, profits, assets and market value. Our market value calculation is as of April 16, 2021 using closing prices on the same day. All figures are consolidated and in U.S. dollars.
Oil and gas drillers fell sharply on our ranking due to a deep commodities slump that battered firms’ stock prices and led to large earnings shortfalls.
Royal Dutch Shell fell from No. 21 to No. 324 on the overall global list as the pandemic wreaked havoc on gasoline consumption, as millions shifted to working from home and avoided travel. In September, Shell announced it would lay off up to 9,000 people by 2022. French energy giant Total also dropped from No. 29 to No. 344 overall, while Russia’s Gazprom slid from No. 32 to No. 367 and LukOil OAO fell from No. 99 to No. 467.
The pandemic also impacted everything from beer consumption to the use of industrial chemicals. Budweiser owner Anheuser-Busch InBev fell from No. 56 to No. 377, while German drug and chemicals giant Bayer fell from No. 102 to No. 492, and BASF fell from No. 107 to No. 421.