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Chemical Week’s Billion-Dollar Club: Ranking the world's top chemical producers

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Chemical Week’s Billion-Dollar Club: Ranking the world's top chemical producers

The following is an excerpt from Chemical Week by S&P Global's Billion-Dollar Club, an annual ranking of the top chemical companies in the world by revenue. For the complete list for 2021, click here. For 2020's ranking, click here.

The top three companies in Chemical Week's billion-dollar club remained unchanged from 2020 to 2021, with BASF claiming the top spot in the ranking for the 11th time in 14 years. The top ten overall retained a host of familiar names: ExxonMobil, LyondellBasell, Sabic, Ineos, Formosa Plastics and ChemChina among them.

While the relative positioning of companies in CW's ranking has, for the most part, been quite stable over the past few years, revenues have gone for a wild ride as the COVID-19 pandemic shut down economies around the world in 2020, only to be followed by strong global growth and inflationary conditions in 2021. In 2020, some 78 companies in CW's billion-dollar club – which contained 100 companies that year – saw revenues decline. In 2021, all companies saw year-on-year revenue increases. This perhaps understates the magnitude of the gains, as 97 companies in the ranking saw revenues rise by more than 10% YOY in 2021.

Revenue increases were, of course, to some extent tied to inflation. In the US, inflation reached levels not seen since the early 1980s – pressures that have continued into 2022 – as supply chains snarled and demand came roaring back across the economy. Inflation was a bit slower to take hold in other major economies, but eventually it did. Still, the median revenue increase for the 108 companies in CW's billion-dollar club in 2021 was 30%, a figure that far outpaces inflation and speaks to the ability of chemical makers to pass along rising costs.

Profit figures bear out that producers were able to maintain, and usually increase, profits despite cost pressures. The median operating income for billion-dollar club companies in 2021 stood at about $1.27 billion, a 65% year-on-year increase. Median revenue for billion-dollar club companies in 2021 was about $9.18 billion.

Meanwhile, while M&A has had a muted impact on the billion-dollar club's leaderboard in the past few years, the slide in the rankings of DuPont, a longtime leader in the industry, is noteworthy. The storied US chemical maker was just the 29th largest producer by sales last year, down from number 16 in 2020, due largely to the sale of its nutrition and biosciences business to IFF. DuPont was ranked 13th in 2019's list, after the completion of the DowDuPont merger-then-split transaction, and the company was routinely in the top five in the 1990s and 2000s.

It is looking increasingly likely that 2021 was a cyclical peak for the industry, however – sharp snapback after the COVID-19 pandemic brought the economy to a halt in 2020.

Inflation, supply bottlenecks and uneven demand recovery created significant challenges, but ultimately the combination of strong demand and pricing power pushed past those headwinds and led to a very strong year for most producers.

Operating conditions have changed in recent months, due largely to Russia's invasion of Ukraine and persistent inflation.

In late 2022 and 2023, the most likely scenario is one of subdued global growth, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence.

Read the full report: Billion-Dollar Club Global growth returned in 2021

The figures in CW's Billion-Dollar Club are based on company reports and data pulled from S&P Global Capital IQ. The ranking includes the top companies by disclosed chemical revenues for fiscal years ending July 1, 2021, through June 30, 2022. Figures may not line up perfectly with last year's Billion-Dollar Club because of differences in the data set. These differences may occur as a result of changes in corporate reporting practices; data collection; corporate restructuring; mergers, acquisitions, and divestitures; currency impacts; and the exclusion of firms that fell off the ranking in either 2020 or 2021.

Several companies with substantial chemical operations do not publicly report chemical revenues. These include Koch Industries, Total, PetroChina, and Reliance Industries. Some of these companies did not respond to CW's requests for information. There may be some changes in data access from year to year.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Nouryon's revenue declined in 2021. Nouryon's revenues actually increased 17% YOY in 2021. Chemical Week regrets the error.