Carpe Diem

If top 500 US manufacturing firms were a separate country, they would have been the third largest economy last year

Rank 10 Largest Manufacturing Industries, 2012 Revenue (Millions) Examples
1 Petroleum & Coal Products $1,629,494 Exxon, Chevron, Conoco
2 Computers & Other Electronic Products $814,172 HP, IBM, Apple
3 Chemicals $441,233 P&G, Dow, DuPont
4 Food $387,855 General Mills, Kellogg, Campbell
5 Motor Vehicles $333,693 Ford, GM, Harley-Davidson
6 Pharmaceuticals $317,763 J&J, Pfizer, Merck
7 Machinery $263,840 Caterpillar, Deere, Xerox
8 Aerospace & Defense $260,360 Boeing, Lockheed Martin
9 Electrical Equipment & Appliances $248,864 GE, Emerson, Whirlpool
10 Motor Vehicle Parts $137,552 Johnson Controls, Cummins, TRW
Total $4,834,826

IndustryWeek recently released its annual ranking of the 500 largest publicly held US. manufacturing companies in 2012 based on sales revenue, and the top ten US manufacturing industries (of 27 total industries for the Top 500 companies) are displayed above. To put US manufacturers sales revenue into perspective, here are some comparisons to international GDP values that help give context to the enormity of those sales figures:

1. The combined sales revenue (including global sales) of the top 500 US-based manufacturing firms in 2012 was $6.01 trillion, which was a 17.2% increase over 2011 sales of $5.13 trillion. To put those sales in perspective, if those 500 US manufacturers were considered as a separate country, their revenue last year of  $6.01 trillion would have ranked as the world’s third’s largest economy behind No. 1 US and No. 2 China, and slightly ahead of No. 4 Japan’s entire GDP of $5.98 trillion in 2012.

2. The sales revenue from the top ten US manufacturing industries totaled $4.83 trillion in 2012 (see chart above), which was 44% more than Germany’s entire GDP of $3.36 trillion last year.

3. Annual sales of $1.62 billion in 2012 for America’s single largest manufacturing industry – petroleum and coal products – was larger than the GDP of Australia last year of $1.54 trillion, and almost as much as Canada’s $1.77 trillion in GDP in 2012.

4. Annual sales of $814 billion for America’s second largest manufacturing industry – computers and other electronic products was more than the entire GDP last year of Turkey ($770 billion) and Saudi Arabia ($657 billion).

5. The top ten largest U.S. manufacturing companies (Exxon, Conoco, Chevron, GM, GE, Ford, H-P, Valero, Apple, and IBM) had combined revenues of $1.87 trillion, more than Canada’s GDP in 2012 of $1.77 trillion and almost as much as the entire GDP of India ($1.94 trillion).

MP: The comparisons above help put the enormous size of the top 500 U.S. manufacturing firms into perspective and demonstrate that American manufacturers are not withering and disappearing, but  thriving, expanding and prospering. In 2011, US manufacturing companies as a group had their best year ever in terms of after-tax profits by far, with almost $600 billion in after-tax earnings according to the Department of Commerce.  Based on data through the third quarter of 2012, manufacturing profits will likely slip in 2012 to about $570 billion, but that will still be the second-best year ever for manufacturing profits, and almost 30% above the pre-recession level of $442 billion in 2007. Despite the persistent rumors of its pending demise, American manufacturing companies are alive and well, and getting better every year.

Note: Even though dollars of corporate sales revenues are not directly comparable to dollars of economic output as calculated for purposes of GDP, these comparisons are being used illustratively to put the trillions of dollars of manufacturing sales into some perspective.

31 thoughts on “If top 500 US manufacturing firms were a separate country, they would have been the third largest economy last year

  1. to help put this into a more complete perspective, I wonder how the top US companies compared to an equivalent list of the top companies in the world – of which many on the US list may be on the world list but there are some pretty large multi-national conglomerates out there also.

  2. U.S. flags were removed from boardrooms and replaced with world maps and globes with company locations in the early 1990s. You have U.S.-based companies, but not very many big U.S. companies without an overseas presence. This is a natural progression from the U.S. filling the vacuum left after WW II and changing back to a world economy that was prevalent for most of modern history.
    World’s 500 Largest Companies

  3. People who while about the loss of ‘manufacturing jobs’ are just anti-productivity.

    In dollar terms, US manufacturing output has never gone down. It just does more and more with less people. With the wave of robots and 3D Printing coming forth, the best is yet to come.

    Someday, one person will be producing all $5 Trillion in output. Heh.

    • Ken is right, Larry, think about that a little longer before you start typing.

      If you can’t find anyone at your location to explain it to you, ask me & I will do it. Or ask Ken. Or ask just about anyone who comments here. As luck would have it, this is an econ blog.

      • larry-

        remember how all the losses in farming jobs left people chronically out of work, destroyed the economy, and left us all destitute?

        yeah, me either.

        it will not happen this time either.

        manufacturing jobs are crummy jobs for the most part. apart from one anomalous period in the US from 1945 until the 60′s, they did not pay terribly well. they pay FAR less than many fields.

        manufacturing efficiency drops prices and frees up time. this causes a services sector to rise. the people who clean my house make more per hour than new hires at GM.

        contrary to what you seem to have expressed, it is easier now to change skilled jobs than probably any time in history.

        once upon a time if you were a cobbler and wanted to go into another form of production, it was unlikely you could learn to be a blacksmith.

        it’s much easier now.

        this “so who will have a job” thinking is just luddite nonsense. wealth creates jobs. if i own a factory run by robots, it makes me money. i spend it on things from housekeeping to cars to entertainment and food. every one of those bits of demand creates jobs. people will fill the needs.

        economies are dynamic and evolve in response to such things.

        this is why getting good at agriculture allows you to go into manufacturing and whey getting good at manufacturing lets you go into services and knowledge work.

        there is literally not a shred of evidence that the issue you keep trying to point at exists on an economy wide basis. change creates losers as well as winners. that is always true. but when that change is a gain in productivity, the gains massively outweigh the losses and, as a result, the economy is easily able to adjust and keep growing and generating general prosperity.

        to argue that productivity gains cause systemic unemployment is so completely backwards and wrong that it would require a complete lack of economic, business, and historical understanding to do so.

        • @Morg – you don’t have to convince me Morg.

          but it’s pretty clear that the way technology is changing in terms of speed and in terms of jobs affected – has accelerated ….

          re: manufacturing jobs are crummy

          I don’t really disagree but what is the alternative for people who whose primary method of employment was manufacturing?

          What should they be shooting for – instead?

          I doubt that people who work on assembly lines are going to start designing cell towers or writing automation software or building the automated systems that are replacing them (a certain irony, eh)… but maybe their sons and daughters will.

          My farmers have been put out of work – but many of them also never found another line of work that they were qualified for – all they ever knew was how to farm.

          very hard to retrain folks who have been making a living at doing something for 40 years… not saying it can’t be done and won’t be done.. just not a smooth transition.

          • “re: manufacturing jobs are crummy”

            Many are done from consoles located in air conditioned offices. That’s not crummy compared to lifting over 60 tons of car frames in 12 hours like I did in the 1970s. Some jobs people should not be doing anyway. The place I used to work ships the same tonnage of finished steel with 1000 people that used to take 3000 – 4000 people. You could mourn the loss of 3000 jobs or celebrate the profitable and better 1000 jobs left.

            Larry, maybe not a smooth transition, but probably never smoother in history than now. I don’t see where it does anyone any good to talk about the “good ole days” because you can’t go back and and close examination might just find the good ole days are now.

          • re: ” Larry, maybe not a smooth transition, but probably never smoother in history than now. I don’t see where it does anyone any good to talk about the “good ole days” because you can’t go back and and close examination might just find the good ole days are now.”

            agree.. we see things pretty much the same.

  4. Interesting list—and yes, multi-national means that.

    Private-sector for-profit companies do not (nor should not) have allegiance to a nation, or a nation’s people.

    That is why the Pledge of Allegiance to National Athem are not played at annual shareholder meetings.

    If America goes to crap, but China thrives, and GM thrives along with China, then GM will do that. GM did business with Hitler (Opel) and sent flowers to Goering’s wife, right up to the moment that war was declared.

    As Milton Friedman would tell you, corporations have only the obligation to make money for shareholders, within the law. That is all.

    If you get sold down the river, that is the way it should be.

    • Flowers for Goering’s wife? They should have just sent a couple of Pete Seeger and Woodie Guthrie records:

      “By 1940, Seeger was an accomplished musician who sang at many leftist political events. That year, he met the singer-songwriter Woody Guthrie at a benefit concert for migrant workers. Soon thereafter, he and Guthrie — along with such performers as Lee Hays, Millard Lampell, Sis Cunningham, Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, Burl Ives, and a few others — formed the Almanac Singers, one of the first folk music groups organized for mainly political purposes. During their brief time together (only about a year), they recorded some three-dozen songs, many of which dealt with such themes as pacifism, labor unions, and the alleged mistreatment of workers by employers and the U.S. government alike.

      All of the Almanac Singers’ members were involved with leftist political organizations, including the Communist Party (CP). In 1941 (not long after the signing of the 1939 Nazi-Soviet Pact), they recorded a series of “Songs for John Doe,” which echoed the CP’s official positions and exhorted listeners to oppose American involvement in the war against Hitler’s Germany. The group performed at many union meetings and fundraising events for CP front groups.

      In 1942 Seeger formally joined the Communist Party. A staunch defender of the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, he saw himself as one of the Party’s “artists in uniform” whose activism was rooted in the notion that “songs are weapons.” — Discover the Networks

  5. Ouch.

    Comparing corporate turnover with GDP just ain’t right.

    A much closer (but not perfect) analogy would be wages paid plus profits to GDP.

    On which measure Exxon is about the size of Luxembourg. Which is about right: both are a couple of hundred thousand rich world people engaging in economic activity.

    • tim-


      gdp is a measure of production. it looks at the value of goods and services created within an economy. it is the sum of consumer spending, investment, and government spending. when a consumer of the government buys somehting, that something shows up as revenue for someone. thus, GDP is, in fact, the sum of revenues.

      the money taken in by selling their goods or services IS the value of the goods and services they produce.

      if you had a country with 10 firms that each sold $100 of stuff, you’d have $1000 in gdp.

      wages + profits is an incomplete assessment of this.

      let’s say you dug up 1000 tons of coal and sold them for $100 each. that’s $10,000 in output. whether you paid $5000 or $9000 in wages to do it is irrelevant from a gdp calculation standpoint.

      i do not think you understand the terms you are trying to compare.

      • gdp is a measure of production“…

        Yeah morganovich I also thought was the definition of GDP myself…

        I made mention of that to someone else I got this as a reply: From Bill Bonner of MoneyWeek: GDP is a fraud
        4th paragraph: ‘The treasure we’re looking for is insight. We’re trying to understand why it is that the smartest economists in the world are so stupid. Incidentally, we hope to understand why GDP is a fraudulent measure of prosperity, and why central banking is a failure, and why the governments of the developed countries are doomed‘…

        Mind you I don’t know if I buy into an explanation that seems to be about selling an upcoming book from Bonner…

        • gdp is a measure of production.

          No, it isn’t. It’s a measure of value added. We subtract inputs from production when assessing GDP.

          An easier way of looking at this is to look at GDP by hte income approach.

          GDP is labour income plus corporate profits plus “mixed income” (ie. selfemployed income, which we’re not quite sure is profits or labour income) plus taxes minus subsidies on consumption.

          GDP by the income approach should equal GDP by the output approach. It doesn’t, because people lie about their incomes. But it is close.

          So, when we compare corporate turnover to GDP by this measurement, we see that it’s wrong, It just ain’t turnover that gives us a reasonable value. It’s value added: or, as I said, wages paid plus profits.

          • GDP vs GNP…. income approach, vs expenditure approach, vs production approach.

            ok.. time for Morg (and other legitimate players) to weigh in…. here…

            how about some education?

          • It’s a measure of value added. We subtract inputs from production when assessing GDP“…

            OK tim, that sounds quite sensible…


          • tim-

            um, no, it’s not.

            gdp is the market value of all final goods and services produced in an economy.

            i think you may need to look up the definition.

            you are getting confused because GDP does not count intermediate goods but simply adding the costs of labor and profit together does not get you to a number that equals the price of intermediate inputs, particularly under gaap. your method of trying to back out intermediate and raw goods is not going to work and the definition you are using is not actually correct.

            but when ford makes a car, it is the value of the car that gets counted as gdp, not the labor and the profit. if we take the profit + the labor then we get a number that still does not account for things like depreciation, the accumulation of inventory, etc.

            further, just because wages are paid does not make them contribute to GDP. if you pay me $100 and i save $20 and spend $80, you cannot count my full $100 in wages as GDP because they were not spent and therefore there may have been any component in C.

            profit + labor is not the indicator you seem to think it is.

          • tim-

            “GDP is labour income plus corporate profits plus “mixed income” (ie. selfemployed income, which we’re not quite sure is profits or labour income) plus taxes minus subsidies on consumption.”

            no, it isn’t. for a clear demonstration of why this is so, try reading a BEA GDP release.

            such a methodology does not take inventory levels into account.

            GDP measures final production. if ford builds 1000 cars, they do not all become revenues or profits. if they sell 800 then inventory grows by 200. those 200 added to inventory are still counted in GDP, but they have not yet generated revenues or profits.

            GDP is a measure of final output, not sales, so inventory matters.

            you seem to be a bit confused about the definition of GDP.


            GDP is a measure of current period production as measured by final sales. wages + profits is not as not everyhting produced this period gets sold this period and not everyhting sold this period was produced this period.

            inventory levels cause significant swings in reported GDP.

            ” Real gross domestic product — the output of goods and services produced by labor and property
            located in the United States — decreased at an annual rate of 0.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012
            (that is, from the third quarter to the fourth quarter), according to the “advance” estimate released by the
            Bureau of Economic Analysis.

            The change in real private inventories subtracted 1.27 percentage points from the fourth-quarter
            change in real GDP after adding 0.73 percentage point to the third-quarter change. Private businesses
            increased inventories $20.0 billion in the fourth quarter, following increases of $60.3 billion in the third
            and $41.4 billion in the second.”


            the method you propose to try and arrive at GDP does not take this into account.

            i do not think you understand what GDP actually means or how it is measured. i i well aware of the “value added” appraoch to measuring GDP, but the method you propose is not the same thing.

            i agree that corp turnover is not the same as gdp due to possible period shifts and inventory issues, but so long as we are looking at finished goods it’s far closer than wages + profits. keep in mind that GDP can still be created by a loss making venture with no production employees or wage bill. lots of start ups work that way early on.

      • morganovich: “GDP is, in fact, the sum of revenues.”

        What? Of course GDP is not the sum of revenues.

        Morganovich: “the money taken in by selling their goods or services IS the value of the goods and services they produce.”

        Not at all. When U.S. refineries sell gasoline, all of the revenue gained by selling that gasoline does not contribute to U.S. GDP. That revenue must be reduced by the value of the refionery inputs which were imported from other nations.

        The same is true for the goods sold at Best Buy. The largest portion of the revenue gained from sales of computers and televisions does represent value-added in the U.S. But a significant portion of Best Buy’s revenue represents the production and transportation costs outside the U.S.

        Money taken in from the sale of goods does not represent GDP.

        • morganovich, 2:01 pm: “thus, GDP is, in fact, the sum of revenues.”

          morganovich, 4:32 pm: “GDP is a measure of final output, not sales, so inventory matters.”

          Well, now I’m not sure what you are arguing, morganovich. It appears that your understanding of GDP is evolving.

  6. Mark,

    I agree and appreciate with most of what you post. But this post and others which use that IndustryWeek data seem misleading to me.

    Is it valid to compare the multinational SALES of giant multi-industry firms with the GDP of countries? Also, is it proper to imply that all a firm’s sales represent manufacturing just because Industryweek includes that firm as representative of a particular manufacturing industry?

    For example of my concern, consider the firms shown by Industryweek as representatives of the manufacturing industry Petroleum and Coal Products. The Industryweek article includes all of ExxonMobil’s $467 billion revenue when “counting” the total sales for U.S. petroleum and chemical products. That’s just flat wrong. Though I cannot find a breakout of Exxonmobil’s revenue by industry, it is clear from their 10K that Exploration and Production activities – not manufacturing activities – make up the largest share of the corporations activities. Furthermore, even the manufacturing activities of Exxonmobil are hardly evidence of U.S. based manufacturing capacity. Only 1/3 of Exxonmobil’s refining capacity is locatred in the U.S. I suspect the same is true for Exxonmobil’s chemical production, though I have not yet found details.

    To give you an idea of how misleading is the information from the Industryweek article:

    - IndustryWeek reported annual sales of $1.62 billion for the top three U.S. manufacturers of petroleum and coal products;

    - the Bureau of Economic Analysis reports that total U.S. GDP for the industry petroleum and coal products was $169 billion.

    The Industryweek article is completely misleading, Mark.

    • Pardon my error. The sentence above should read:

      “IndustryWeek reported annual sales of $1.62 trillion for the top three U.S. manufacturers of petroleum and coal products;”

    • The Department of Commerce reports sales and profits for US manufacturing and its results look comparable to the Industry Week data (see link in the post or go here):

      For 2012, Commerce is reporting more than $6 trillion sales for US manufacturers, and it reports “Petroleum and Coal Products” as one of its Nondurable Manufacturing sectors.

      Therefore, I’m not so sure that the Industry Week data is that much different from Dept. of Commerce.

      As I mention in the post, even if dollars of sales revenue are not directly comparable to dollars of GDP, it’s still an attempt to a) put $6 trillion of economic activity in some context, b) show that the US manufacturing sector is HUGE and expanding based on global sales and c) show that US manufacturers are very profitable.

      • Well, I’m not sure if you’re agreeing that comparing global sales of multinational corporations with the GDP of nations is misleading.

        Why would one refer to the global sales of a multinational corporation – a corporation owned by shareholders who reside all over the globe – as “the U.S. manufacturing sector”? I can understand why Obama and the Democrats want to refer the global sales and profits of these giant multinationals as U.S. sales and profits: they want to tax those sales and profits.

        As I see it, the Toyota assembly plant in San Antonio is part of the U.S. manufacturing sector. ExxonMobil’s Singapore refinery – that corporation’s largest – is not.

        Please reconsider the use of the term “U.S. manufacturing sector” – so that it includes GDP by industry data available at the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

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