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Volume 90 Issue 20 | p. 3 | Editor's Page
Issue Date: May 14, 2012

C&EN’s U.S. Top 50

Department: Editor's Page
Keywords: chemical industry, chemical industry sales, chemical industry earnings, DuPont, Dow Chemical

The lead Business Department story in this week’s issue is C&EN’s annual ranking of the Top 50 U.S. chemical producers’ sales. Senior Editor Alex Tullo compiled the data and wrote the article, as he has been doing since 2000.

The chemical industry had a strong year in 2011. “The 50 firms in the ranking posted a combined $333.6 billion in 2011 chemical sales, an increase of 16.4% versus 2010,” Tullo reports. Profitability was also strong. “The 42 firms that provided earnings figures posted a combined $39.6 billion in operating profits,” Tullo writes. “This represents a 27.0% increase over 2010, a year that itself was a record for the Top 50 U.S. chemical makers in terms of profitability.”

Leading the Top 50, as it has since it claimed the top spot for the first time in 2002, is Dow Chemical, which had 2011 chemical sales of $60.0 billion. For the 33 years before 2002 that C&EN reported on the largest chemical producers, DuPont had led the list. DuPont is third in this year’s Top 50, with $34.8 billion in sales, trailing number two ExxonMobil, which posted $41.9 billion in chemical sales. Strikingly, while chemical sales represented 100% of Dow Chemical’s total sales in 2011 and 91.6% of DuPont’s sales, chemical sales represented only 9.0% of ExxonMobil’s total 2011 sales. It’s good to be in the oil business.

Looking back at C&EN’s listing of top chemical producers is informative. The Top 50 was introduced as a fairly modest “Industry & Business” feature in 1969. Although there were no bylines in C&EN in 1969, the feature was compiled and written by then-New York bureau head Michael Heylin, who later became C&EN’s editor-in-chief. DuPont led the list with $3.25 billion in chemical sales, 93.4% of its total sales, followed by Monsanto, Union Carbide, Dow Chemical, and W.R. Grace. Standard Oil of New Jersey, the progenitor to ExxonMobil, was in sixth place, with $933 million in chemical sales, only 5.9% of its total sales of $15.9 billion. It was good to be in the oil business in 1968, too.

The event that propelled Dow Chemical into the number one spot in the Top 50 was its acquisition of Union Carbide, a purchase announced in August 1999 but not completed until February 2001. In C&EN’s 2001 Top 75 (for various reasons, the listing grew to a Top 100 in 1985, downsized to 75 in 1999, and shrank back to 50 in 2003), Tullo wrote: “A year ago, C&EN was expecting its list of the Top 75 U.S. chemical producers for 2000 to be somewhat dramatic. At the time, it looked like Dow plus Union Carbide could very well equal more than DuPont … A year ago, C&EN even predicted that the two U.S. chemical companies would be ‘neck and neck’ when their 2000 results came out.” In the 2002 Top 75, the two companies were, in fact, neck and neck, with Dow posting $27.8 billion in chemical sales and DuPont posting $26.8 billion.

The growth of the chemical industry as represented by sales of the 50 largest chemical producers is also striking. Heylin reported that the combined 1968 chemical sales of the C&EN Top 50 totaled $25.0 billion. In current dollars, that’s substantially below what each of the top three firms realized in 2011. Even in constant dollars (I used a multiplier of 6.46 provided by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis to convert 1968 dollars into 2011 dollars), chemical sales of the 1968 Top 50 totaled $161.7 billion, less than half of the sales of the 2011 Top 50.

By my count, only 15 of the original Top 50 firms are on the 2011 list. Interestingly, six of the top 10 in 1969—DuPont, Monsanto, Dow Chemical, W.R. Grace, Celanese, and FMC—remain among the Top 50 in 2012. Some of those that disappeared were acquired by other chemical companies; others exited chemicals entirely. Company names have changed. Some names that left the list subsequently reappeared—Celanese, for example, was absorbed at one point by Hoechst but is once again an independent company.

In fact, almost all of the companies on the Top 50 list are very different from the companies they were in 1969, regardless of their name.

Thanks for reading.

 
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