The World's Most Valuable Private Companies

Most corporations of a certain size can't wait to sell their shares on a stock exchange, given the influx of cash and recognition that accompanies an initial public offering. But some things are just too good to share. Other corporations prefer to grow internally, eschewing the public trading of their shares altogether. The advantages to staying private are stark - no reporting requirements, no disassociated shareholders to please, no undue focus on short-term goals. When run sharply, private companies can grow to sizes rivaling those of their largest publicly traded counterparts.

First, a Definition
Determining the world's most valuable private companies largely depends on how you define "private." By some rationale, any company that doesn't trade publicly would count. But atop that list would be Saudi Aramco, which was founded in the 1930s as a subsidiary of America's publicly traded Standard Oil (forerunner of Chevron.) Once Saudi Aramco became profitable in 1950, the Saudi king graciously let Standard Oil keep half the profits while expropriating the rest. The alternative was to have the government simply commandeer the entire company, which it did anyway in 1980.

So best to call Saudi Amarco a state-owned enterprise (along with other giants such as China Mobile and Petrochina), and restrict ourselves to companies that grew out of private-sector ingenuity and continue to flourish as such today.

Turning Wheat into Bread
While the title of America's largest public company has changed over the last couple of decades, from General Motors to Microsoft to ExxonMobil, the most valuable private American company has enjoyed its status largely unchallenged. Cargill is a $27 billion company that you probably have only scant familiarity with, yet have almost certainly patronized. The Minnesota multinational is responsible for a staggering one-quarter of all the grain exports from the United States.

Only a dozen or so American public companies earn more revenue than Cargill and few have its international scope. Cargill operates in 65 nations, on every populated continent, employing 142,000 people. It imports almost one-quarter of all the beef that enters the United States. When you add up all Cargill's interests, everything from phosphate production to energy trading, it totals over $100 billion revenue, annually.

So who does own Cargill? The Cargill family, of course. The understandably secretive Cargills own 90% of the conglomerate, and no, they haven't disclosed any plans to sell anytime soon.

Have a Koch and a Smile
Of slightly smaller size but similar influence is Koch Industries, which is also large enough to rank among the 20 largest public companies in the United States. The company was founded by family patriarch Fred Koch, a chemical engineer who in 1927 developed an efficient way to refine crude oil into gasoline. 85 years later, the company maintains a presence in refining but has expanded into fields as diverse as polymers and ranching. The Wichita-based Koch's most famous subsidiary is Georgia-Pacific, one of the world's largest pulp and paper manufacturers.

Fred Koch died in 1967, willing the company to his four sons. In 1983, brothers Charles and David bought out Fred Jr. and William for what certainly sounded like a generous amount at the time - $1.1 billion. Charles and David each own 42% of the company today, and it's safe to say they'll give thought to selling their interest right around the same time the Cargill clan does.

Out of the Box
Large private companies aren't exclusive to the United States. Europe's most formidable include a Swedish furniture manufacturer (and doubtless the world's biggest popularizer of Allen wrenches), founded in 1943. With net shareholders' equity of $23 billion, IKEA has never strayed from its original business. Today the company operates hundreds of stores in dozens of countries, bringing simple functionality and casual minimalism to the masses.

The multinational's teenage founder, Ingvar Kamprad (the "IK" in IKEA), is now 86 and lives in Switzerland. In 1982 he created a charitable foundation to own the bulk of the company, which it's done ever since. A complete breakdown of IKEA's ownership structure would entail several thousand words, but to summarize, Kamprad's Stichting INGKA Foundation owns the holding company that owns 90% of IKEA's stores. A separate IKEA-branded company owns yet another holding company that owns IKEA's intangibles (trademark, etc.). That company is owned by yet another foundation, founded by Kamprad and based in Liechtenstein, that is saving IKEA millions of dollars in taxes every quarter.

The Bottom Line
As a rule, the successful private companies are the large ones. And the large ones are the ones that consistently reinvest their profits. With no need to worry about paying out dividends, buying back shares on the open market, or other gimmickry that would help make their companies more attractive to potential shareholders, private companies enjoy flexibility and adaptability that most public companies can only dream of.

More From Investopedia


Get stories like this on the Yahoo app and discover more every day.
Download it now.
  • China manufacturing activity expands slightly in September - official PMI Reuters - 20 minutes ago

    BEIJING (Reuters) - Activity in China's manufacturing sector expanded slightly in September, an official survey showed on Saturday. The official Purchasing Managers' Index (CNPMIB=ECI) (PMI) stood at 50.4 ... … More »

  • China Factory Gauge Signals Economic Stabilization Still Intact Bloomberg - 39 minutes ago

    "Thanks to heavy fiscal stimulus through SOE investments, production related to infrastructure projects and the enlarging current account surplus, GDP growth could edge up to 6.9 percent in Q3 and Q4, bringing the annual figure to 6.8 percent," … More »

  • Glencore's former No. 2 aluminium trader buys bankrupt U.S. smelter Reuters - 40 minutes ago

    Noranda Aluminium Holding Corp (NORNQ.PK) said on Friday it sold its 263,000 tonne-per-year New Madrid primary aluminium smelter in Missouri to ARG for $13.7 million in a court-approved auction. Noranda filed for bankruptcy in February after … More »

  • Expats guide to personal finance in Singapore
    Expats guide to personal finance in Singapore ZUU online - 1 hour 52 minutes ago

    Singapore remains an attractive location for expats due to its English-speaking culture, world-cl... … More »

  • NTSB has yet to interview injured engineer in deadly crash
    NTSB has yet to interview injured engineer in deadly crash Associated Press - 2 hours 3 minutes ago

    National Transportation Safety Board investigators held off questioning the engineer in the deadly Hoboken train crash because of his injuries Friday and struggled to lift clues from the train's black ... … More »

  • The Latest: Investigators say train crew 'very cooperative'
    The Latest: Investigators say train crew 'very cooperative' Associated Press - 2 hours 10 minutes ago

    The Latest on a commuter train that crashed into a station in New Jersey, killing one person and injuring more than 100 others (all times local): 7:20 p.m. The National Transportation Safety Board says ... … More »

  • PM May orders employment law review as labour market changes
    PM May orders employment law review as labour market changes Reuters - 2 hours 18 minutes ago

    British Prime Minister Theresa May ordered a review of employment practices on Saturday, saying she wanted to ensure workers' rights were protected under changing business models and a growing trend towards flexible or self-employment. The review … More »

  • Hammond says Brexit deal should not harm economy - Telegraph
    Hammond says Brexit deal should not harm economy - Telegraph Reuters - 2 hours 22 minutes ago

    British controls on immigration following the country's referendum decision to leave the European Union must not be damaging for the economy, finance minister Philip Hammond was quoted as saying in the Daily Telegraph story on Friday. Hammond told … More »

  • China's yuan joins elite club of IMF reserve currencies Reuters - 2 hours 29 minutes ago

    China's yuan joins the International Monetary Fund's basket of reserve currencies on Saturday in a milestone for the government's campaign for recognition as a global economic power. It is the first time that a currency has been added to sit … More »

  • Stocks rebound in Deutsche Bank-led volatile trading
    Stocks rebound in Deutsche Bank-led volatile trading AFP News - 2 hours 38 minutes ago

    US and eurozone shares pushed higher Friday in volatile trade driven by Deutsche Bank's negotiations to settle US charges over its sale of toxic mortgage bonds before the financial crisis. News that Deutsche Bank was close to a much lower … More »

  • Accounting software maker BlackLine files for IPO Reuters - 2 hours 54 minutes ago

    Los Angeles-based BlackLine, founded in 2001 by Chief Executive Therese Tucker, counts Coca-Cola Co (KO.N), Under Armour (UA.N) and Dow Chemical Co (DOW.N) among its 1,500 customers. Reuters reported last week that the company was preparing for an … More »

  • Florida Lottery plans major expansion under huge new deal Associated Press - 3 hours ago

    The Florida Lottery — which just registered more than $6 billion in annual sales — is in line for a large expansion due to a massive new contract that state officials signed this month. Lottery officials, ... … More »

  • Deutsche Bank pressure eases as US fine looks smaller
    Deutsche Bank pressure eases as US fine looks smaller AFP News - 3 hours ago

    Heavy market pressure on Deutsche Bank eased Friday as a knowledgeable source told AFP the US fine over toxic debt it sold would be only $5.4 billion, not the $14 billion originally demanded. A person familiar with the talks between Deutsche Bank … More »

  • A Deutsche Bank settlement overshadows U.S. equities
    A Deutsche Bank settlement overshadows U.S. equities Reuters - 3 hours ago

    Deutsche Bank will likely cast a pall over equity markets next week as the largest German lender navigates a possible multi-billion dollar settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice over the sale of mortgage-backed bonds. Deutsche shares traded … More »

  • A Yahoo insider believes the hackers could really have stolen over 1 billion accounts
    A Yahoo insider believes the hackers could really have stolen over 1 billion accounts Business Insider - 3 hours ago

    REUTERS/Ruben Sprich Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer The actual … Continued The post A Yahoo insider believes the hackers could really have stolen over 1 billion accounts appeared first on Business Insider. … More »

  • IMF leader cites 'historic milestone' for China
    IMF leader cites 'historic milestone' for China Associated Press - 3 hours ago

    Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, is calling the inclusion of China's renminbi as the fifth currency in an elite group of the world's reserve currencies an "important ... … More »

  • Chinese yuan set to join IMF's elite currency basket
    Chinese yuan set to join IMF's elite currency basket AFP News - 3 hours ago

    China's yuan is poised to enter the International Monetary Fund's elite SDR basket of currencies, elevating Beijing's banknotes into a family long exclusive to global reserve assets. A symbolic coup for policymakers in Beijing, the move represents … More »

  • Business Highlights Associated Press - 3 hours ago

    ___ Malls, stores consider new ways to protect shoppers More sophisticated cameras. Security robots. Customers feeling shaken by recent attacks at U.S. malls may not notice huge changes — but mall operators ... … More »

  • The only executive to hold a high-ranking position at both Uber and Lyft is leaving Uber
    The only executive to hold a high-ranking position at both Uber and Lyft is leaving Uber Business Insider - 3 hours ago

    Uber Uber’s VP of Driver Growth, Travis VanderZanden, … Continued The post The only executive to hold a high-ranking position at both Uber and Lyft is leaving Uber appeared first on Business Insider. … More »

  • Trump vs Miss Universe: White House race hits new low
    Trump vs Miss Universe: White House race hits new low AFP News - 4 hours ago

    Donald Trump urged voters on Friday to check out the supposed "sex tape" of a former Miss Universe backing his rival Hillary Clinton, provoking the Democrat to label him "unhinged" in a surreal new turn to the White House race. In a pre-dawn … More »

  • Data storage provider Nutanix soars in market debut
    Data storage provider Nutanix soars in market debut Reuters - 4 hours ago

    After getting strong encouragement from investors, the company kept nudging up the asking price for shares from the $11 to $13 range set early last week, co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Dheeraj Pandey said in an interview on Friday. … More »

  • Municipal-bond week in review: Yields sag then finish strong Associated Press - 4 hours ago

    Yields on municipal and Treasury bonds sagged this week on concerns about the health of Germany's largest bank, before retracing their steps on Friday. The 10-year yield on the AP Municipal Bond index ... … More »

  • Nutanix exceeds expectations in upsized IPO Reuters - 4 hours ago

    San Jose, California-based Nutanix's share price exceeds the $13.40 value last placed on its shares in a 2014 funding round, an upgrade encouraging for the many unprofitable technology companies that, like Nutanix, have been weary of testing public … More »

  • US stocks rally on Deutsche Bank deal AFP - 4 hours ago

    US stocks rose strongly Friday as financial shares surged on news that Deutsche Bank was near a settlement with US regulators over its sale of toxic mortgage bonds before the financial crisis. US-traded ... … More »

  • How the Dow Jones industrial average fared on Friday Associated Press - 4 hours ago

    U.S. stocks climbed Friday as banks made a rapid recovery following a steep fall a day ago. Investors hoped Deutsche Bank and the financial system in general were in better shape than they had feared. ... … More »

Recent Quotes
Symbol Price Change % Chg 
Your most recently viewed tickers will automatically show up here if you type a ticker in the "Enter symbol/company" at the bottom of this module.
You need to enable your browser cookies to view your most recent quotes.
to view quotes in your portfolios.


  • Most Actives
    Most Actives
    NamePriceChange% Chg
  • % Gainers
    % Gainers
    NamePriceChange% Chg
  • % Losers
    % Losers
    NamePriceChange% Chg

Market Data

  • Currencies
    NamePriceChange% Chg
  • Commodities
    NamePriceChange% Chg
  • Bonds
    TreasuryYield (%)Yield Change