Britain’s 10 largest export companies represent a diverse range of distinct industries: tobacco, diversified metals and mining, energy, pharmaceuticals, chemicals as well as the aerospace and defense sector.
From an international trade perspective, the overall value of all export products from the United Kingdom increased by 0.4% from US$466.3 billion in 2015 to $468.2 billion during 2019. From 2018 to 2019, the value of exported goods from the UK declined by -4.6%.
In the analysis below, we compare 10 of the UK’s top exports-oriented businesses based on asset values, sales and profitability. Also presented is the city where each conglomerate has its headquarters.
In many cases, year-over-year trends for the top UK product producers show sliding profits and asset growth.
United Kingdom’s Top 10 Major Export Companies
Below are United Kingdom’s biggest exports-related companies organized by asset value. Shown within parentheses is the primary industry in which each company operates. Also shown is the change in asset value as of December 2019 compared to 2018.
- BP (oil, gas): US$273.9 billion, down -0.5% from 2018
- British American Tobacco (tobacco): $186.8 billion, down -2.1%
- GlaxoSmithKline (pharmaceuticals): $104.6 billion, up 32.7%
- Rio Tinto (diversified metals & mining): $87.8 billion, down -8.3%
- AstraZeneca (pharmaceuticals): $57.2 billion, down -9.8%
- Anglo American (diversified metals & mining): $56.2 billion, up 2.9%
- Diageo (beverages): $42 billion, up 3.2%
- Imperial Brands (tobacco): $41.6 billion, down -2.1%
- BAE Systems (aerospace, defense): $34.5 billion, up 13.5%
- LyondellBasell Industries (diversified chemicals): $30.4 billion, up 13%
Five of these British conglomerates grew their asset values from 2018 to December 2019. Posting double-digit gains were pharmaceuticals kingpin GlaxoSmithKline (up 32.7%), aerospace leader BAE Systems (up 13.5%) and chemicals supplier LyondellBasell Industries (up 13%).
Assets declined for the remaining 5 major companies: pharmaceuticals firm AstraZeneca (down -9.8%), metals and mining player Rio Tinto (down -8.3%), tobacco competitor Imperial Brands (down -2.1%), British American Tobacco (also down -2.1%) and oil and gas colossus BP (down -0.5%).
Sales is the life blood for most businesses, and particularly for firms that compete in international trade. Eight of the United Kingdom’s largest exports-related companies increased their sales as of the 12-month period reported on December 2019.
- BP: US$271.6 billion, up 7.8% from 2018
- GlaxoSmithKline: $44.7 billion, up 12.3%
- Rio Tinto: $43.2 billion, up 8%
- LyondellBasell Industries: $34.7 billion, down -3.1%
- British American Tobacco: $33 billion, up 26.4%
- Anglo American: $29.9 billion, up 14.1%
- AstraZeneca: $26.2 billion, up 17%
- BAE Systems: $23.4 billion, down -0.8%
- Imperial Brands: $20.5 billion, up 2%
- Diageo: $16.8 billion, up 7%
Garnering double-digit sales increases were British American Tobacco (up 26.4%), pharmaceuticals firm AstraZeneca (up 17%), metals and mining company (up 14.1%) then another pharma competitor GlaxoSmithKline (up 12.3%).
There were two sales declines from 2018 to 2019 namely for diversified chemicals provider LyondellBasell Industries (down -3.1%) and defense industry titan BAE Systems (down -0.8%).
Just three among the UK’s top exports-related businesses were able to boost their bottom-line profits as of the latest December 2019 period. The most significant profit acceleration belongs to pharmaceuticals leader GlaxoSmithKline via its 385.7% increase from 2018, trailed by BAE Systems (up 72.7%) and miner Anglo American (up 9.4%).
- Rio Tinto: $8 billion, down -8% from 2018
- British American Tobacco: $7.3 billion, down -84.9%
- GlaxoSmithKline: $6.8 billion, up 385.7%
- Diageo: $3.9 billion, down -4.9%
- Anglo American: $3.5 billion, up 9.4%
- LyondellBasell Industries: $3.4 billion, down -35.8%
- BAE Systems: $1.9 billion, up 72.7%
- AstraZeneca: $1.5 billion, down -50%
- Imperial Brands: $1.3 billion, down -18.8%
- BP: -$3.3 billion, reversing a $4.3 million surplus
The UK’s biggest multinational export company BP incurred $3.3 billion in red ink for 2019, a significant reversal from $4.3 billion in profit one year earlier.
Suffering double-digit shrinkage in profits in 2019 were British American Tobacco (down -84.9%), pharmaceuticals provider AstraZeneca (down -50%), diversified chemicals supplier LyondellBasell Industries (down -35.8%) and Imperial Brands formerly named Imperial Tobacco (down -18.8%).
Nine of the 10 largest UK export companies are based in London, England — a city once considered to be the gateway to the European Union. This notion has been cast under a cloud of doubt in light of the UK’s upcoming Brexit breakaway from the EU precariously scheduled for March 29, 2019.
- Anglo American: London
- AstraZeneca: London
- BAE Systems: London
- BP: London
- British American Tobacco: London
- Diageo: London
- GlaxoSmithKline: London
- Imperial Brands: Bristol
- LyondellBasell Industries: London
- Rio Tinto: London
Note: Some of the above company offerings may include products other than the principal category shown within parenthesis under the Assets tab.
For instance, consider BP. In addition to selling fossil fuels, BP also makes petrochemicals products used to make everyday items as diverse as paints, clothes and packaging.
Similarly, AstraZeneca is a global research-based biopharmaceutical firm that also tests and develops new medications.
See also United Kingdom’s Top 10 Exports, United Kingdom’s Top Trading Partners, United Kingdom’s Top 10 Imports and European Union’s Top 10 Exports
Forbes Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies for the UK. Accessed on August 29, 2020
Forbes 2018 Global 2000 individual company profiles, Example of top UK company compiled for this study: BP. Accessed on August 29, 2020
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on August 29, 2020
Wikipedia, Category:Companies of the United Kingdom. Accessed on August 29, 2020
Wikipedia, List of largest private companies in the United Kingdom. Accessed on August 29, 2020