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C&EN’s Global Top 50 chemical companies of 2013

The world’s largest chemical firms are growing and enjoying stronger profits

by Alexander H. Tullo
July 28, 2014 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 92, ISSUE 30

To read the current Global Top 50 Chemical Companies article, please click here.

Germany won soccer’s World Cup championship final earlier this month. The country also won—or at least Germany’s BASF did—C&EN’s Global Top 50 ranking of the world’s largest chemical producers.

Click here for an interactive look at the Global Top 50 that lets you sort by company and year, with complete data going back to 2007. Be sure to also check out our US Top 50 information presented in the same interactive format.

But unlike in the soccer tournament, where Germany was a main contender but not the hands-down favorite, there was little doubt that BASF would come out on top of the C&EN survey. After all, the firm has been there for 9 consecutive years.

BASF is truly an enormous chemical company. Its $78.6 billion in chemical sales for 2013, the year on which the survey is based, is $17.8 billion more than the sales recorded by the second-largest firm, China’s Sinopec. The differential is bigger than the sales of the number 20 company in the ranking, India’s Reliance Industries. BASF’s sales amount to 8.0% of the combined revenue of all of the companies on the list.

Furthermore, BASF is big in every region of the world. Its North American business alone would be number 14 on the global list. Any economic factor that would put a damper on BASF’s sales would take most every other large chemical firm down with it.

So BASF will likely be the world’s largest chemical company for years to come. Few acquisitions among large chemical makers would be big enough to dislodge the German firm. And given that Verbund, a German word meaning something like “integration,” is a core BASF value, a breakup of BASF isn’t likely.

If the Global Top 50 can be considered a competition, it is a contest among the 49 firms that aren’t BASF. This group has actually experienced some jostling for position.

This is Sinopec’s first year in the number two slot, having edged out Dow Chemical. Sinopec was a close third last year, but a 5.0% increase in sales and a strengthening Chinese renminbi combined to lift the company over Dow, which experienced a paltry 0.5% increase in sales.

In his annual letter to shareholders, Sinopec Chairman Chengyu Fu noted that the firm’s chemical business “successfully mitigated the impact of difficult market conditions.”

As for the future, Fu echoed the kind of optimism that will sound familiar to China watchers. “China’s economy will become all the more vibrant as economic reforms allow markets to play a more decisive role in resource allocation,” he wrote. “The continuous pursuit of industrialization and urbanization will support steady growth in demand for oil and petrochemical ­products.”

Also at the top of the ranking, Saudi Basic Industries Corp. overtook Shell Chemicals to claim the number four slot. SABIC’s 3.1% increase in sales was only a modest improvement, but Shell’s sales declined 7.6%.

The Swiss firm Ineos broke into the top 10, but only because of a technicality. In previous years, C&EN counted only the results of Ineos Group Holdings, which comprises mainly its petrochemical and polyethylene businesses. This year, the company provided results that aggregated other operations, such as its polyvinyl chloride business. If C&EN had counted those operations last year, Ineos would have been ranked 10 instead of 12.

Credit: ExxonMobil
Construction has begun on ExxonMobil’s ethylene plant in Baytown, Texas.

Despite the jostling at the top, 48 firms on this year’s list were also present last year. Only two firms dropped off. One is Momentive, which C&EN now considers two separate companies—Momentive Specialty Chemicals and Momentive Performance Materials—because the latter, the former silicones business of General Electric, declared bankruptcy. As separate firms, neither is big enough to make the ranking.

Margins and capital spending were up while R&D remained flat. NOTE: Based on C&EN’s annual listing of the Global Top 50 chemical producers. a For companies ­reporting chemical capital spending. b For ­companies reporting chemical R&D.
Margins and capital spending were up while R&D remained flat. NOTE: Based on C&EN’s annual listing of the Global Top 50 chemical producers. a For companies ­reporting chemical capital spending. b For ­companies reporting chemical R&D.

Japan’s Showa Denko fell off the list because its sales weren’t large enough. Curiously, Showa’s sales, as measured in Japanese yen, increased 13.3%. But the yen depreciated 22.0% against the dollar in 2013, hurting the company’s sales when measured in dollars.

This is a pattern that repeated itself for Japanese firms throughout the ranking. Out of eight Japanese firms, just one, DIC, failed to post double-digit revenue growth in yen. However, all but one, Mitsui Chemicals, fell in the ranking. It should be noted that the weakening yen was generally a positive for the Japanese firms because it helped their competitiveness in international markets in 2013.

In fact, 2013 wasn’t a bad year for the chemical industry overall. Combined revenues for the Global Top 50 firms increased 1.7% to $980.5 billion.

The combined chemical profits for the 47 firms that disclose such figures rose 3.7%, to $93.8 billion. The average profit margin for the group was 10.3%, the highest mark since 2011 and above the 9.0% it averaged since 1991.

To judge from C&EN’s survey, European firms were mostly weak performers, with many showing declines in revenues. That shouldn’t be surprising given that the region is only haltingly coming out of an economic slowdown.

However, a different view holds that European companies have been strong performers, according to Andreas Gocke, who recently wrapped up a study of value creation in the chemical industry for Boston Consulting Group (BCG), in Munich, where he is a senior partner and global leader of its chemical practice. The more European firms focus on specialty chemicals, Gocke says, the better off they are. They are worse off if they make a lot of basic chemicals and plastics, especially now, given the competition from shale-gas-fueled production in the U.S. “That is not a stronghold for European companies,” he says.

It isn’t hard to find examples in C&EN’s survey consistent with Gocke’s point. The petrochemical business of the Italian oil giant Eni is the only company that posted a loss. On the other hand, specialty chemical maker DSM is one of the few European firms that managed to increase revenues.

The U.S. firms on the list didn’t see a lot of growth, but their profit margins are among the strongest in the industry. Cheap shale gas isn’t the only reason for the country’s success, says Andrew Taylor, who heads the North America chemicals practice at BCG. Reindustrialization of the U.S.—the opening and expansion of factories that consume chemicals—is providing demand that is also buttressing the industry. In the future, Taylor says, this demand should also “help mitigate massive swings” if energy markets turn volatile.

For the second year in a row, mergers and acquisitions didn’t leave much of a mark on companies in the ranking. An exception is the industrial gases firm Linde, which rose from 23 to 18 in the ranking partially because of its purchase of the medical gases provider Lincare. And Solvay declined from 22 to 26 because it is divesting its polyvinyl chloride business.

The chemical industry hasn’t had the appetite for the kinds of deals that transform companies into much larger companies, says Alasdair Nisbet, managing director of the investment banking firm Natrium Capital, which focuses on the chemical sector.

“The theme at the moment is greater focus,” he says. Chemical companies are concentrating on adding to businesses they already have or selling off businesses they no longer want. “Large mergers often lead to residual businesses that don’t overlap, have few synergies, and are unpopular with investors,” he says. “Companies want businesses that fit.”

To see how the Global Top 50 data have changed over the years, visit

Recent deals illustrate the trend. PPG Industries’ $2.3 billion purchase of Comex is meant to expand its core paint business in Latin America. Ineos’s purchase of BASF’s stake in Styrolution and its formation of a PVC partnership with Solvay will grow Ineos’s core basic plastics businesses and help BASF and Solvay home in on specialties.

Albemarle’s recently announced $6.2 billion purchase of lithium maker Rockwood is an example to the contrary. However, even the combined company, with annual sales of about $4 billion, won’t be enough to make the Global Top 50 cut.

It seems that BASF’s number one position will be safe for a good long while.

Download a PDF of this article here.

Margins and capital spending were up while R&D remained flat.NOTE: Based on C&EN’s annual listing of the Global Top 50 chemical producers. a For companies ­reporting chemical capital spending. b For ­companies reporting chemical R&D.BASF retained the lead, but Sinopec overtook Dow Chemical to claim the number two spot.
Margins and capital spending were up while R&D remained flat.NOTE: Based on C&EN’s annual listing of the Global Top 50 chemical producers. a For companies ­reporting chemical capital spending. b For ­companies reporting chemical R&D.BASF retained the lead, but Sinopec overtook Dow Chemical to claim the number two spot.
Most companies shelled out more for equipment and research.
Most companies shelled out more for equipment and research.


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Ken Forbes (July 29, 2014 12:55 PM)
Where is Ashland Inc. and why is it not included in the rankings? It has nearly 8 billion in annual sales and is unseen in this listing. Please explain.
Alex Tullo (July 29, 2014 4:01 PM)
Hi Ken, we don't count Valvoline sales as chemical. Ashland did, however, place 15th in the U.S. ranking.
Mike Panozzo (July 29, 2014 4:28 PM)
Do the Styrolution sales count towards BASF and INEOS Sales 50:50 with the JV, or have they been excluded?
Alex Tullo (August 7, 2014 12:35 PM)
Good question, Mike. They are excluded in both cases.
Hitoshi Miyake (August 14, 2014 10:09 PM)
I'm in charge of Japan Petrochemical Industry Association [JPCA]. I hope that your table "Global Top 50"(P.11 July 28,2014) would be appeared in our annual report "Petrochemical Industry of Japan 2013".
Would you give us your approval of publish? Of course,we will indicate the source "C&EN".
Alex Tullo (August 25, 2014 1:12 PM)
Thank you for your interest. Feel free to contact me at
Christopher R. Kyer (November 10, 2014 11:07 AM)
I was a chemical operations specialist in the U.S. Army for 15 years, and I would like to know what kind of positions this might transfer over to the civilian side of the house.
I currently live in Pensacola, FL. and I'm not above relocating if needed.
Unfortunately for me, I only have the high school education I graduated with; so, if I don't have the education needed...can you please tell me the type of classes required to continue in this field.

I thank you for your time.
Josep Lane (February 5, 2015 3:17 PM)
I have worked in manufacturing for over 50 years and notice that many chemicals are are packaged in 50 gallon drums. The contents are then pumped to the needed process. The storage of these chemicals creates a hazard at times due to their corrosive and toxic ingredience to the interior surface. The exterior surface of the containers are exposed and subject to damage by the workers. We have products where we put a tank within a tank. Some of them have a diaphragm that allows the contents to be delivered to the job site under pressure eliminating the pump. Since it is a tank within a tank the inner tank can be of a high grade of material of a minimum thickness for economic reasons. The outer tank is the pressure vessel that when damaged will not spill the contents. If either tank surface is compromised an indicator alarm will alert the operator to investigate.These tanks can be made to ASME and Department of Transportation special permits obtained.

I have not seen anything like this in the chemical industry. I would like to know what chemical companies are doing in packaging, storing and shipping chemicals.What problems do they incur?
simpl (March 11, 2015 11:52 AM)
I'm not a packaging expert,I'm in Pharma chemical production, but I imagine the solutions may depend on cost, volumes and handling. The 50 gallon drum looks like a good solution for manual handling. Certainly two larger general solutions include a specialised pallet container (ours are round a ton)and big bags for solids. We have a lot of tank delivery for organic liquids. Then the specialties, more toxic, corrosive, also gases,will have specific solutions, often in conjunction with the supplier.I don't know that we use any double-walled containers other than some tankers.
Chris Z (June 1, 2015 1:20 PM)
Out of curiosity how many chemical firms are there globally? This is the top 50, what would the number bee if you tracked the whole list.?

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