The United Kingdom is the sixth-largest economy in the world, and it has produced a number of large-cap and blue-chip stocks, which are listed on the London Stock Exchange. The majority of these are also constituents of the FTSE 100 stock index, which measures the largest companies by market capitalisation. Read on to discover the top 20 largest UK companies by market cap and how you can get involved in spread betting or trading CFDs on their share prices. This information is accurate as of May 2021.
|1||Unilever (ULVR)||Consumer goods||£106.55bn|
|4||Rio Tinto (RIO)||Mining||£76.79bn|
|7||British American Tobacco (BATS)||Tobacco||£61.90bn|
|8||BP (BP)||Oil and gas||£60.09bn|
|9||Royal Dutch Shell (RDSA)||Oil and gas||£55.58bn|
|10||Reckitt Benckiser (RKT)||Consumer goods||£46.97bn|
|12||Anglo American (AAL)||Mining||£43.20bn|
|13||Glencore (GLEN)||Oil and gas, mining||£40.25bn|
|16||London Stock Exchange (LSE)||Finance||£37.74bn|
|18||National Grid (NG)||Utilities||£31.98bn|
|20||Lloyds Banking (LLOY)||Finance||£30.91bn|
*Above information is taken from the London Stock Exchange – May 2021
All companies are listed on the London Stock Exchange and are constituents of the FTSE 100 stock index. Continue reading for an in-depth analysis of the top 10 companies.
Unilever is a British-Dutch conglomerate consumer goods company. It owns over 400 brands, many of which are household names, such as Dove, Lipton, Magnum, Vaseline, Walls, Marmite and PG Tips. It was founded in 1929 and has headquarters in London and Rotterdam. In particular, its brands produce consumer goods relating to food, beverages, personal care, beauty, cleaning, healthcare and pharmaceuticals. Unilever products are available in over 190 countries worldwide. Unilever has three listings on the London Stock Exchange, New York Stock Exchange and Euronext Amsterdam. As well as making up part of the FTSE 100, it is also a constituent of the AEX index in Amsterdam and the Euro Stoxx 50.
Throughout 2020, the company grew underlying sales by 1.9% despite the Covid-19 pandemic, which has had an effect on its beauty and grooming sectors, as well as food products that were impacted by channel closures. Some of Unilever’s core markets, such as China and India, returned to growth in the second quarter after lockdown restrictions were eased, boosting emerging markets by 1.2%. Overall losses in turnover for 2020 were 2.4%.
AstraZeneca is a British-Swedish multinational pharmaceutical company that is a leader not only in the UK but worldwide. It has headquarters at the Cambridge Biomedical Campus, which is the largest centre for health and medical research in Europe. The company was formed in 1999 through the merger of two existing pharmaceutical companies and has since expanded to acquire other businesses, such as MedImmune, Spirogen and Definiens. AstraZeneca focuses on areas of healthcare such as cancer research, respiratory and autoimmune diseases, and neuroscience. It has secondary listings on other exchanges including the NASDAQ OMX, Bombay Stock Exchange NASDAQ in New York.
2020 was a vital year for the company, as AstraZeneca managed to develop and distribute a vaccine to counteract the effects of Covid-19, in a joint partnership with Oxford University. The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was approved and administered at the start of 2021, with an efficiency of 81.3% after the second dose. In its annual report, the company announced an increase of 9% in revenue for 2020.
HSBC is a multinational banking and financial services corporation. The company serves over 65 countries worldwide and it is the largest bank in Europe, as well as one of the largest globally. It originates back to the British Hong Kong region in 1865 and now has headquarters in London, still maintaining its strong relationship with the Asian markets. HSBC caters for commercial banking, global banking and investments, retail banking, private banking and wealth management services. As well as the LSE, it is listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange and NYSE, as well as being a constituent of the Hang Seng index.
Total profits and revenue for HSBC fell in 2020 by almost 30%, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. This could be due to lower interest rates and failure to repay global debts and loans. However, these losses were partially offset by lower operating expenses, which were 19% lower than in 2019. As Asian markets start to rise again, this could help HSBC to recover in the wake of the pandemic.
Rio Tinto is an Anglo-Australian mining company with headquarters in London. It is one of the world’s largest precious metals extractors and refiners, producing gold, diamonds, iron, aluminium and copper. The company was founded in 1873 by Spanish investors and it still operates to this day in Spain and other countries worldwide. Rio Tinto has multiple listings on the Australian Securities Exchange and NYSE, where it also listed on the S&P/ASX 200 stock index.
In 2020, the overall revenue for Rio Tinto rose 3% in comparison with 2019, despite the Covid-19 crisis and the destruction of the Juukan Gorge sacred caves in Australia, which caused huge public backlash and resulted in the CEO of the company stepping down. Rio Tinto’s share price managed to stabilise after rising iron ore prices. Following criticism from environmental groups on the company’s practises, Rio Tinto has also pledged to improve its climate change strategy in order to reach zero net emissions across operations by 2050.
Diageo is a global producer of alcoholic beverages. Founded in 1997, it is one of the world’s largest distillers, operating in over 180 countries. Diageo owns more than 200 brands in a number of alcoholic sectors, which include Johnnie Walker (whiskey), Smirnoff (vodka), Captain Morgan (rum), Gordon’s (gin), Guinness (beer), Baileys (liqueur) and Don Julio (tequila), many of which are household names. The company also holds a large stake in the Moet Hennessy drinks division of French company LVMH. Its headquarters are located in West London and it has a secondary listing on the New York Stock Exchange.
Diageo had a tough year during 2020, with operating profits falling by 47%, due to lockdown restrictions and the closing of pubs, restaurants and bars where the company’s products are sold. Its earnings per share also reduced by half, from 130p in 2019 to 60p in 2020. The only region where sales increased was Diageo’s largest market, North America, where it witnessed a 2% organic net sales improvement. The company is planning to reduce discretionary expenditure and manage costs more effectively.
GlaxoSmithKline is one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, established in 2000 from the merger of four other healthcare businesses. Self-described as a science-led company, GSK is involved in the research, development and manufacturing of medicines and vaccines, as well as consumer goods for the industry. The company focuses on HIV, respiratory diseases, oncology and immunology. Several of GSK’s products are listed on the WHO’s List of Essential Medicines, such as amoxicillin and mercaptopurine. The company also developed the first malaria vaccine in the world. It has a secondary listing on the NYSE.
For the 2020 financial year, GlaxoSmithKline reported a total operating profit increase of 2%, which can be attributed to its decline in operating expenses. It also reported an increase of group turnover by 3%, which could have been higher if its medicine and vaccine sales weren’t impacted by demand for the Covid-19 vaccine. It continues to pay a healthy dividend to investors in 2021.
British American Tobacco is a multinational manufacturer and retailer of tobacco. The company produces and sells cigarettes, tobacco and other nicotine-related products. It is the largest tobacco company in the world, based on net sales, which was founded in 1902 and headquartered in London. BAT operates in 180 countries worldwide and has secondary listings on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, as well as the NYSE. Some of its cigarette brand names include Lucky Strike, Pall Mall, Kent and Dunhill, and its reduced-risk products include vapours and oral pouches from Vype and Glo.
Although cigarette sales have been falling for years, British American Tobacco has adapted their products to meet the market’s increasing demand for risk-adverse products. Its number of consumers grew from 10.5m in 2019 to 13.5m in 2020, and sales of vapour and oral products increased by 132%. Overall, revenue was down by only 0.4%, which may be surprising for some investors, given the type of market.
BP is one of the world’s seven oil and gas ‘supermajors’, founded in 1902 and headquartered in London. Formerly known as The British Petroleum Company, it undertakes activity in all areas of the oil and gas industry, including exploration, refining, distribution, marketing and trading. BP has more than 180,000 service stations in locations worldwide and produces more than 3.8m barrels of oil each day. The company is also listed on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange and NYSE and was featured in the Forbes Global 2000 in 2020, which measures the largest public companies in the world.
2020 was a challenging year for the oil and gas industries, as global demand for oil fell due to restrictions on travel and industrial activity. BP saw its lowest revenue figure in over 16 years of just 180bn. The company has been at the centre of several major environmental incidents, including the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. As a result, BP is now expanding its renewable energy interests in biofuels, wind power and solar technology, so this may be a company to look out for, given the increasing demand for renewable energy sources.
Royal Dutch Shell is an Anglo-Dutch oil and gas company that has headquarters in the Netherlands. It is one of the oil and gas supermajors and one of the largest companies in the world by revenue. Similar to BP, Royal Dutch Shell operates in all areas of the oil and gas industry, such as production, refining, transport, distribution and extraction of petrochemicals. The company produces around 3.7m barrels of oil per day. It has a number of subsidiary companies across all five continents. Royal Dutch Shell has three listings on the LSE, Euronext Amsterdam and NYSE.
Royal Dutch Shell also noticed a steep decline in revenue in 2020 as a result of economic and mobility restrictions. The price of crude oil per barrel plummeted in March 2020, which affected share prices of oil stocks. The company reported making a profit in only one sector in 2020 for its chemical sales business. As APAC markets account for more than 35% of total revenues, Royal Dutch Shell may be looking towards a more hopeful year, due to the re-opening of the markets.
Reckitt Benckiser is a multinational consumer goods company. It manufactures products relating to health, hygiene and nutrition. The company was founded in 1999 by the merger of two companies that originally date back to as early as 1814. Reckitt owns a number of well-known brands, such as Dettol, Gaviscon, Calgon, Nurofen, Veet and Air Wick, producing products such as air fresheners, laundry detergents, hair removal creams, antacids, cleaning supplies and disinfectants. The company is headquartered in Slough and operates in 60 countries, selling its products in almost 200 countries.
In 2020, Reckitt had its highest ever sales growth of almost 12%, which was driven by exceptional demand for its disinfectants and antibacterial products from Dettol and Lysol. Given the pandemic, the company’s performance is attributed mainly to its hygiene division, with annual sales rising by over a quarter. This comes after a few sluggish years in terms of revenue and brand value, possibly restoring investor faith in this company for years to come.
How can I trade on the UK’s biggest companies?
You can trade on the UK’s biggest companies via a spread betting or CFD trading account. To learn about the differences between the two products and find out which is more suited to you, visit our article on spread betting vs CFDs.
What is the biggest brand in the UK?
The biggest brand in the UK is currently Cadbury, and it is also the fastest-growing brand. Sales for 2020 exceeded £1,682.1m, which is up 6.6% from the previous year. Cadbury is owned by Mondelēz International, an American food holding company. Read more about trading on Mondelez shares.
Can I create a watchlist for the biggest UK companies?
You can create your own watchlists to monitor the top UK companies by market capitalisation, and we also offer a pre-built watchlist that tracks shares on the FTSE 100. Learn how to create stock watchlists on our Next Generation platform.
What are some of the largest companies in the world?
Some of the largest companies in the world come from the US, such as tech giants Apple, Microsoft and Amazon, as well as international oil and gas companies Saudi Aramco and Sinopec. Read more about the different sectors of large-cap stocks.
Are the UK’s biggest companies of blue-chip status?
Most of the biggest UK companies are considered to be of blue-chip status, which are defined as companies that were established many years ago and have a large consumer following, as well as a respected brand value. Read more about trading on blue-chip stocks.
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