For use of information media - Not an official record

02 November 1998

General Electric of the United States is the world´s largest transnational corporation (TNCs), as measured by foreign assets, while Daewoo Corporation of the Republic of Korea is the largest TNC from developing countries, according to the World Investment Report 1998: Trends and Determinants (WIR98), released today by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

The rankings(1), based on 1996 numbers, show that while General Electric was first in terms of foreign assets in the world, Exxon Corporation would rank first in terms of foreign sales with a 1996 volume of US$102 billion and Unilever of The Netherlands and the United Kingdom would rank first in terms of foreign employment with 273,000 foreign employees. Among the largest TNCs in developing countries, Daewoo led in terms of foreign assets, Petróleos de Venezuela was the largest in foreign sales at close to US$32 billion and Jardine Matheson, the Hong Kong (China) group now headquartered in Bermuda, had the most foreign employees at 140,000.

The lists show that the world´s largest TNCs are becoming increasingly transnational, and are thus less dependent on their home country in terms of assets, sales and the location of their employees. The pace of transnationalization among the world´s top 100 is brisk, while it appears to be more gradual among the largest TNCs in developing countries. WIR98 states that "all indications are that the forces of globalization will lead to an increase in the degree of transnationality of firms."

Assets, sales and employee totals all rise rapidly

The world´s top 100 TNCs accounted, in 1996, for global sales of US$2.1 trillion ( up 7 per cent from 1995), foreign assets of US$1.8 trillion (up 6 per cent from 1995) and foreign-based employees of 5.9 million (up 2 per cent from 1995). In the top 100, firms operating in the electronic/electrical industry make up the largest group, followed by TNCs in petrochemicals and chemicals, automotive, petroleum and mining, and food/beverages industries.

Total foreign assets of the top 50 from developing countries have been rising much more rapidly than those of the world´s top 100 TNCs. The gain for the top 50 from developing countries was 31 per cent in 1996 alone, rising from US$79 billion in 1995 to US$104 billion in 1996. Since UNCTAD first introduced the top 50 list, in 1993, the increase has been 280 per cent. Total foreign sales of the top 50 TNCs in developing countries reached US$137 billion in 1996 (US$120 billion in 1995) and the number of their foreign employees rose by 17 per cent to 1.24 million.

TNCs from the United States, Japan, the United Kingdom, France and Germany accounted for three-quarters of the entries on the top 100 in 1996, just as they did at the start of this decade when UNCTAD first compiled the ranking. Only two TNCs from developing countries rank among the world´s top 100 with Daewoo Corporation at number 43 and Petróleos de Venezuela at 73.

Daewoo is very substantially the largest firm on the list of the top 50 from developing countries in terms of foreign assets, as it has been for some years. However, numerous companies have entered and exited this list and overall mobility appears to be higher than on the world´s top 100 list. Nevertheless, the top 50 continues to be dominated by TNCs from Hong Kong, China; the Republic of Korea; and, to a lesser degree, Brazil and Mexico.

Apart from diversified TNCs, corporations in the food/beverages, petroleum and electronics/electrical equipment industries dominated the top 50 list ­ all other industries have less than 5 entries on the list.

UNCTAD´s transnationality index

The world´s 100 largest corporations, based on the volume of their foreign assets, are becoming increasingly transnational. UNCTAD´s transnationality index measures the degree to which a TNC is transnational by comparing foreign numbers to purely home country numbers for assets, sales and employment ---- the greater the percentage of foreign data, the more transnational a TNC is said to be. On this basis, WIR98 concludes that the transnationalization of the world´s top 100 continues to rise and that a somewhat more gradual transnationality trend is evident among the top 50 TNCs in developing countries.

The most transnational of the top 100 in 1996 was the Seagram Company of Canada with a transnationalization index rating of 97 per cent, while the least transnational of the top 100 was GTE of the United States with 16 per cent. The list of the leading 10 TNCs by degree of transnationality is, predictably, dominated by firms from small countries, such as ABB, Nestlé, Solvay, Electrolux, Unilever and Roche, from Switzerland, Belgium, Sweden and The Netherlands.


1. The WIR rankings do not include banks and other financial industry corporations. The lists largely embrace manufacturing companies. Differences in calculations of assets between banks and other financial institutions, compared to manufacturing TNCs, does not allow for easy comparisons. The increase in the international activities and in the transnationality levels of private financial institutions is formidable. WIR98 notes, for example, that banks from developing countries and from countries in transition in Central and Eastern Europe have already achieved a considerable international presence, even when compared with the foreign presence of banks from OECD countries.

For more information, please contact:
Chief, Karl P. Sauvant
International Investment, Transnationals and Technology Flows Branch
Division on Investment, Technology and Enterprise Development
T: +41 22 907 5707
F: +41 22 907 0194
E: karl.sauvant@unctad.org
Chief, Carine Richard-Van Maele
UNCTAD Press Unit
T: +41 22 917 5816/28
F: +41 22 907 0043
E: press@unctad.org.


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