The 20 Most Profitable Companies in the World

October 21, 2014 by 247alex

With the recent release of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, Apple is again the focus of the financial world. Already in its opening weekend, Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) sold 10 million iPhones, breaking its previous record.

With massive sales of cutting-edge, high-margin electronics, Apple is now the second most profitable company in the world. The only company with a higher profit is the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China. Based on data provided by FactSet on companies’ net income before discontinued operations and extraordinary items for their latest fiscal year, these are the world’s 20 most profitable companies.

Income from continuing operations — which excludes extraordinary and discontinued items from earnings — is an important indicator of the profitability of a company’s core business. By contrast, net income, the standard all-encompassing measure of profits, can include items that do not reflect underlying profitability of a business.

Click here to see the world’s 20 most profitable companies

For example, Vodafone (NYSE: VOD) had $17.7 billion in net income from continuing operations, making it the 18th most profitable company in the world. However, this did not include the sale of its 45% stake in Verizon Wireless to Verizon Communications. Had these figures been included, Vodafone would have been the most profitable company in the world.

Of the 20 most profitable companies, nine are based in the United States. These include two banks, Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC) and JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM); two energy companies, Exxon Mobil (NYSE: XOM) and Chevron (NYSE: CVX); and two technology giants, Apple and Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT). Conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK-B) is also among the most profitable companies.

In all, four industries account for the majority of companies among the world’s most profitable. Seven companies are in the energy industry, led by Gazprom and ExxonMobil, the most of any sector. Six of the most profitable companies are banks, with four based in China, and two based in the U.S. Three telecom giants — AT&T (NYSE: T), China Mobile (NYSE: CHL), and Vodafone — are also among the 20 most profitable companies by normalized earnings. Finally, Apple joins Samsung Electronics and Microsoft to make up the technology companies on the list.

Overall, six companies on this list are based in China. Each of these companies is majority-owned by the Chinese government. The two Russian companies among the 20 most profitable companies, Gazprom and Rosneft, are also majority state-owned.

Being majority-owned by the government can serve as either a drag on profitability or a boost. Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than with the big four Chinese banks. All four of these banks — Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, China Construction Bank, Agricultural Bank of China, and Bank of China — were among the eight most profitable companies in the world.

In order to determine the most profitable companies in the world, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data on net Income before discontinued operations and extraordinary items, provided by FactSet. Data from FactSet is expressed in U.S. dollars, using the average annual exchange rate of local currencies against the dollar where applicable. However, different countries utilize different accounting standards, which can impact reported profits.

Information on company countries, industries and revenue is from S&P Capital IQ and is for the most recent fiscal year. Figures are translated by S&P Capital IQ using the effective exchange rate as of the end of each company’s fiscal year. Additionally, revenues cover only consolidated subsidiaries. Many large companies have unconsolidated affiliates and investments that meaningfully contribute to earnings.

We have also provided currency translations in certain cases. Where this is the case, we used the exchange rate at the end of a company’s fiscal year. Further, we also elected to remove Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from consideration, since both entities are currently under the conservatorship of the Federal Housing Finance Agency. All profits earned by the firms go to the U.S. Treasury Department.

These are the 20 most profitable companies in the world.

20. Rosneft
> Net income from cont. operations: $17.1 billion
> Country: Russia
> Industry: Integrated oil and gas
> Revenue: $138.4 billion

With total earnings of more than $17 billion last year, excluding one time items and discontinued operations, Rosneft is one of the most profitable energy companies in the world and one of the largest by virtually any measure. According to the company, Rosneft accounted for about 40% of oil production and one-third of all oil refining in Russia. Last year, Russia produced more than 10.5 million barrels of oil per day, more than all but two other countries. Rosneft is also the third-largest producer of natural gas in Russia, which is itself the second largest natural gas producer in the world. More than two-thirds of the company is owned by the Russian government, while just 10.75% of shares are publicly traded.

19. JPMorgan Chase & Co.
> Net income from cont. operations: $17.4 billion
> Country: United States
> Industry: Diversified banks
> Revenue: $69.4 billion

JPMorgan Chase & Co. had $2.5 trillion in assets as of June, making it the largest bank holding company by assets in the U.S. In part because of the company’s substantial legal expenses in recent years, JPMorgan Chase reported a return on equity of just 9% last year, worse than it had in years past. Before discontinued operations and extraordinary items, the company reported a net income of $17.4 billion, more than all but a few other companies. The bank grew significantly in the wake of the financial crisis, as it was able to acquire the collapsed investment bank Bear Stearns and most of lender Washington Mutual’s operations. Today, JPMorgan Chase is one of just three bank holding companies with more than $1 trillion in deposits as of June as well as more than 5,000 branches.

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18. Vodafone Group plc
> Net income from cont. operations: $17.7 billion
> Country: United Kingdom
> Industry: Wireless telecommunication services
> Revenue: $63.9 billion

European telecom company Vodafone announced at the beginning of this year it had completed the sale of its 45% share in Verizon Wireless to Verizon Communications. The sale was priced at roughly $130 billion, making the deal one of the largest in recent history. While the agreement substantially reduced Vodafone’s overall size, the move is expected to improve its growth potential, and the company is still among the most profitable worldwide by net income from continuing operations, at $17.7 billion last year. Including the Verizon Wireless deal, the company reported a net income of 59.4 billions pounds, or $98.8 billion, last year, the highest among all companies reviewed.

17. Toyota Motor Corp.
> Net income from cont. operations: $18.2 billion
> Country: Japan
> Industry: Automobile manufacturers
> Revenue: $294.6 billion

Toyota is the world’s most profitable auto manufacturer, with $18.2 billion in earnings from continuing operations last year. Bolstering earnings, the company produced more than 9 million vehicles in its latest fiscal year, up from roughly 8.7 million the year before. However, the growth in operating profits, which rose from 1.3 trillion yen to nearly 2.3 trillion yen — or $22.3 billion — in its latest fiscal year, was largely due to favorable exchange rate movements. Toyota is the world’s largest auto manufacturer by vehicle sales as well as Japan’s largest company by market capitalization.

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16. AT&T Inc.
> Net income from cont. operations: $18.2 billion
> Country: United States
> Industry: Integrated telecommunication services
> Revenue: $128.8 billion

As part of a series of mergers within the telecom industry, AT&T — one of the largest providers of mobile and broadband services in the United States– announced it had agreed to purchase satellite TV provider DirecTV earlier this year. The purchase will likely only growth the company’s bottom line. Last year, AT&T earned over $18 billion from continuing operations. The company has a long history of being one of the dominant telecom players in the U.S. A predecessor company was so large that, in 1984, regulators disbanded the company into eight separate entities as part of antitrust proceedings against the firm. Among these entities — the so-called “Baby Bells” — was SBC Communications, which in 2005 bought its former parent and took on the name AT&T.

15. Berkshire Hathaway Inc.
> Net income from cont. operations: $19.5 billion
> Country: United States
> Industry: Multi-sector holdings
> Revenue: $182.2 billion

Berkshire Hathaway, led by billionaire investor Warren Buffett, is America’s most profitable conglomerate. Berkshire Hathaway had assets of nearly $485 billion, as of its last annual report, against just more than $260 billion in liabilities. The company uses the change in its per share book value — or assets less liabilities — to measure its performance, with the goal of beating the S&P 500. Subsidiaries of the conglomerate include insurers GEICO, General Re, BNSF Railway, and apparel maker Fruit of the Loom. The company also has substantial investments in household names such as Heinz, Wells Fargo, IBM, American Express, and The Coca-Cola Company.

14. China Mobile Limited
> Net income from cont. operations: $19.8 billion
> Country: Hong Kong SAR
> Industry: Wireless telecommunication services
> Revenue: $104.1 billion

China Mobile has a truly massive customer base of more than 799 million people. That is more than double the population of the United States and is even far larger than the population of the European Union. In its latest fiscal year, China Mobile reported more than 630 billion yuan in revenue in fiscal 201X, or $104 billion. Earnings excluding one-time gains and losses were close to $20 billion. After reaching a deal with Apple — another one of the world’s most profitable companies — China Mobile started this year to make the iPhone available to the more than 285 million customers on its 3G and 4G networks. The recent arrival of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus could boost China Mobile’s total number of 4G customers, which rose from nearly 30 million in August to almost 41 million in September.

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13. PetroChina Co. Ltd.
> Net income from cont. operations: $21.1 billion
> Country: China
> Industry: Integrated oil and gas
> Revenue: $373.0 billion

Oil and gas company PetroChina was formed in 1988 and is currently controlled by state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation, which owns more than 86% of common shares outstanding. PetroChina is the largest oil and gas company in China, and one of the largest in the world in terms of revenue. PetroChina reported revenue of $373 billion last year, among the highest worldwide. PetroChina’s total assets grew by 3.6% from the previous reporting period to $2.34 trillion yuan — or roughly $387 billion — at the end of last year. The company employed 863,824 people around the world as of December 2013.

12. Chevron Corporation
> Net income from cont. operations: $21.4 billion
> Country: United States
> Industry: Integrated oil and gas
> Revenue: $211.7 billion

Oil and gas giant Chevron earned more than $21 billion last year. Most of the company’s profits came from its upstream business, which handles the exploration and extraction of oil and natural gas. However, Chevron was even more profitable in the past. Both net income and return on equity have dropped in the last two years, largely because the company is sensitive to oil prices changes. Including affiliates, the company produced 1.7 million barrels of oil and 5.1 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day last year. However, the significant decline in oil prices this year may pose a challenge to the company’s profitability.

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11. Wells Fargo & Company
> Net income from cont. operations: $21.9 billion
> Country: United States
> Industry: Diversified banks
> Revenue: $81.5 billion

Wells Fargo & Company, one of the oldest and largest banks in America, reported net income of more than $21 billion in 2013, up for the fifth consecutive year.. Like several major banks, the financial crisis also provided an opportunity to grow for Wells Fargo. In June 20089, Wells Fargo had just over $275 billion in deposits. That October, Wells Fargo agreed to acquire Wachovia, which had suffered deep losses from its adjustable-rate mortgage lending. With Wachovia’s nearly $499 billion in deposits and more than 3,300 branches as of June 2008, the acquisition grew Wells Fargo’s retail banking network considerably. As of June, Wells Fargo had total deposits of $1.1 trillion, among the highest worldwide.

10. Microsoft Corporation
> Net income from cont. operations: $22.1 billion
> Country: United States
> Industry: Systems software
> Revenue: $86.8 billion

Microsoft has long been a giant in the technology industry, as well as one of its most profitable companies. The majority of Microsoft’s operating income is derived from its commercial business segments, which licenses its products to businesses, including Office for Business, Windows operating system, and its server products. Last year, across its consumer and commercial segments, Office, Windows, and server products and tools accounted for more than $58 billion of the company’s $86 billion in revenue. Going forward, however, investors are likely to look for growth from Microsoft’s phones and tablets, as well as from its cloud computing services.

9. BP plc
> Net income from cont. operations: $23.5 billion
> Country: United Kingdom
> Industry: Integrated oil and gas
> Revenue: $379.6 billion

BP was the third most profitable energy company in the world, with more than $23 billion in profits from continuing operations. This was despite the fact that the Gulf of Mexico oil spill continued to weigh on its profitability. Charges associated with the spill lowered the bottom line by $396 million, although this was down from charges of almost $5 billion in 2012. Last year, BP also recorded a gain of $12.5 billion on the sale of its 50% stake in TNK-BP. Such gains are hardly one-time events for the company, which has recorded billions in gains from such sales in each of its last three fiscal years. In return for selling TNK-BP to Rosneft, BP also grew its stake in the Russian oil giant to nearly 20%. Rosneft is also one of the most profitable companies in the world.

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8. Bank of China Ltd.
> Net income from cont. operations: $25.5 billion
> Country: China
> Industry: Diversified banks
> Revenue: $63.3 billion

Bank of China traces its history back to 1912, when its founding was approved by the founding father of the Republic of China, Sun Yat-sen. The bank has had several roles throughout its history. Until 1949, it served as China’s central bank. Thereafter, it managed the country’s foreign exchange operations. In 1994, it became a fully state-owned commercial bank, and in 2006, it offered shares on exchanges in both Hong Kong and Shanghai. The bank has grown to a massive size and reported net income from continuing operations exceeding $25.5 billion in 2013. At the end of last year, Bank of China was still more than two-thirds owned by the Chinese government through a state-owned enterprise.

7. Agricultural Bank of China Limited
> Net income from cont. operations: $27.1 billion
> Country: China
> Industry: Diversified banks
> Revenue: $68.2 billion

The Agricultural Bank of China is one of the big four Chinese banks, all of which are among the eight most profitable companies in the world. Until the recent public offering by e-commerce giant Alibaba, ABC held the record for largest IPO in history, after raising more than $19 billion in 2010. ABC and its cohorts have benefited from China’s move in the 1990s to establish a number of asset management companies, which buy bad loans from the Chinese banking system. However, after the most recent surge in Chinese lending, which was directed by the country’s government, worries have arisen that the Chinese financial system may be loaded with bad debt.

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6. Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd.
> Net income from cont. operations: $27.2 billion
> Country: South Korea
> Industry: Technology hardware, storage and peripherals
> Revenue: $216.6 billion

Samsung is, by far, the most profitable company in South Korea, with more than $27 billion in income from continuing operations last year. Although its smartphone market share declined in the last year, Samsung is still the largest smartphone maker in the world. Sales of Samsung smartphones accounted for 25% of the global market as of the second quarter of 2014, according to IDC. In the first half of this year, the company’s information technology and mobile communications segment — which includes Samsung’s phones — accounted for 57.4% of the company’s sales. Of course, Samsung Electronics makes far more than just phones. It also makes monitors, digital cameras, washing machines, and more. Samsung Electronics is one of many companies bearing the Samsung name and is considered part of the Samsung Group: a network of companies, called a chaebol in South Korea, with complex cross-holdings between member firms.

5. Exxon Mobil Corporation
> Net income from cont. operations: $32.6 billion
> Country: United States
> Industry: Integrated oil and gas
> Revenue: $393.7 billion

ExxonMobil is the second largest company in the United States by income from continuing operations, trailing only Apple. It is also one of the largest companies in the world by market capitalization. The company’s upstream segment which explores for and produces oil, accounted for the bulk of its earnings last year. ExxonMobil derived nearly $26 billion in income from its production activities last year, of which just under half came from equity affiliates — investments whose revenue and costs are not directly included in the income statement. In addition to its highly profitable upstream segment, ExxonMobil notes that it is “the world’s largest refiner and marketer of petroleum products,” and that “our chemical company ranks among the world’s largest.” While low oil prices may hurt the company’s upstream segment, they could also potentially improve margins in its refining business.

4. China Construction Bank Corporation
> Net income from cont. operations: $34.9 billion
> Country: China
> Industry: Diversified banks
> Revenue: $76.9 billion

China Construction Bank is one of four Chinese banks among the eight most profitable companies in the world. Last year, the company reported more than 214 billion yuan in profits, or roughly $35 billion. Helping the bank generate such huge profits, China Construction Bank reported nearly 400 billion yuan in net interest income, or more than $64 billion. In addition to posting larger profits than its U.S. counterparts, the bank also had a return on equity of 21.2%, well above the 13.9% figure for Wells Fargo, America’s most profitable bank. Like other major Chinese banks, China Construction Bank is majority state-owned.

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3. Gazprom OAO.
> Net income from cont. operations: $35.7 billion
> Country: Russia
> Industry: Integrated oil and gas
> Revenue: $156.6 billion

Along with Rosneft, Gazprom is one of two of the world’s 20 most profitable companies based in Russia. Like Rosneft, Gazprom is majority-owned by the Russian government, with government-controlled entities holding just over half of all shares. Gazprom claims to own the largest reserves of natural gas in the world and to account for 13% of global natural gas production. Gazprom also notes that its natural gas transmission network is the largest in the world, with roughly 168,900 kilometers of pipelines. The company is a massive exporter of gas throughout Europe. However, because of this, it is often viewed as a tool of Russian foreign policy in Europe, including in Ukraine.

2. Apple Inc.
> Net income from cont. operations: $37.0 billion
> Country: United States
> Industry: Technology hardware, storage and peripherals
> Revenue: $170.9 billion

Apple may have posted the most extraordinary growth in net income among any of the most profitable companies in the world. In 2004, Apple made $276 million. Last year, that number rose to $37 billion. The company’s recent growth has been fueled in large part by the iPhone. Last quarter, Apple sold more than 35.2 million iPhones, which produced $19.8 billion of the company’s total revenue of $37.4 billion in the period. At least near term, the iPhone will likely remain the key to Apple’s growth. The company sold 10 million units of the new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus in the first weekend they were available. The phones will be available in 69 countries and territories by the end of October. Because of its size, the most important of these markets is likely China, where newest iPhones will be available from all three of the country’s largest wireless carriers.

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1. Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Limited
> Net income from cont. operations: $42.7 billion
> Country: China
> Industry: Diversified banks
> Revenue: $89.4 billion

The Industrial and Commercial Bank of China is the world’s most profitable company, with a net income from continuing operations of more than $42.7 billion last year. However, the profitability of the bank is somewhat dependent on government policy. Notably, in 2010, ICBC marketed a trust product, called “2010 China Credit / Credit Equals Gold #1.” The product was not explicitly guaranteed by the bank. However, after considerable government pressure, the company lent money to an asset manager to bail out customers from the product. Concerns about such shadow financing have been building in China for a long time. While ICBC is massive, with continued growth in assets, it has substantial exposure to such potentially risky products. These products, under certain scenarios, could weigh heavily on profits in the future.