For the first time since the debut of the Fortune Global 500 list in 1990, and arguably for the first time since World War II, a country other than the United States has the most companies on the list.
A night view of the Beijing CBD on Sept 9, 2018. (Photo: IC)
This year, the US has 121 companies on the list, while China, the world's second-largest economy, has 129, which prompted the magazine to claim "it's China's world", in an article on its website when it released the list on Monday.
The list, compiled and published by Fortune magazine each year to rank the top 500 companies worldwide as measured by revenue, has long been considered a yardstick for the economic prowess of countries. And while Fortune has exaggerated somewhat to attract eyeballs, many indicators other than the number of companies point to a steadily rising economy that is reshaping the world's economic landscape.
For example, six of the top 10 companies with the fastest growth are from China, including Alibaba Group Holdings, Tencent Holdings and Suning.com; companies that have benefited from China's rapidly expanding domestic consumption market, which, despite an economic slowdown, still boasts growth that many major economies can only dream of.
Yet there is no room for complacency as the list also reveals unhealthy parts of China's economy. There are 11 Chinese banks on the list with total profits of more than $200 billion, contributing almost half of the profits of all listed companies from China. Many believe they have made "easy" profits mostly because of their dominance in the Chinese financial market, which may mean higher costs for companies involved in the real economy.
Also, all five real estate companies that make it to the list are from China, indicating it will still take some time before the country can wean itself off the property market for growth momentum.
However, it is tech companies that dominate the list, showing that the shift to the digital economy is gaining traction. And among the seven listed companies related to the internet, four are from China — Alibaba, Tencent, JD.com and Xiaomi, the youngest company on this year's list. They are leading a development trend as China upgrades its economy by relying more on technological innovation in such fields as artificial intelligence, robotics and autonomous vehicles, with huge R&D spending that only the US can rival.
It is also worth noting that despite the ongoing trade conflict that Chinese telecommunications equipment giant Huawei has been caught up in, it still rose in the Fortune 500 list to 61 from 72 last year, with a 22-percent year-on-year increase in sales volume and 27.5-percent growth in profits, which reflects the resilience of Chinese companies.
All in all, the fundamental take-away from the list is that the upgrading of the Chinese economy is well under way. The trade war with the US is only providing greater incentive to accelerate it.