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The World’s Largest Telecom Companies 2018: AT&T, Verizon Remain On Top As Sector Struggles

The 54 telecommunications companies on the 2018 ForbesGlobal 2000 list claim more than $3.4 trillion in assets and totaled nearly $1.5 trillion in revenue last year.

But despite the tech-obsessed bull market of late, the world’s largest public telecom companies aren’t immune to broader industry tepidness; only one-fifth of the largest 25 telecom firms managed to move up in the Global 2000 rankings — our annual list of the world’s most powerful public companies, ranked by sales, profits, assets and market value.

Case in point: the world’s top telecom firm, AT&T T +2.14%fell four spots on the Global 2000 after reporting lighter 2017 revenues of $161 billion, down about 2% from the prior year. The Dallas-based conglomerate, with subsidiaries including DirecTV and Cricket Wireless, managed to nab about $30 billion in profit last year — but not without a $20 billion Q4 windfall thanks to the arrival of a newly signed U.S. tax bill at year’s end.

With the iShares S&P Global Telecom ETF posting a negative return of nearly 10% over the last year and State Street’s U.S. telecom-tracking index also in the red for the same period, it may be no surprise that AT&T has a keen eye on deepening its supply chain with a hotly contested proposal to acquire media giant Time Warner (#159 on the 2018 Global 2000 list) for $85 billion.

And AT&T’s not alone on the Global 2000 in the telecom consolidation game, which continues to see large players cope with industry setbacks through widespread acquisition — often by dabbling into more market-friendly industries. New York-based Verizon, number 2 on the telecom list and holding steady at number 18 in the global rankings, completed its $4.5 billion acquisition of Yahoo in June 2017, when the firm said it’d be combining its freshly acquired Internet assets with its AOL brands to form a new subsidiary called Oath.

According to a Charles Schwab report released in May 2018, the telecommunications sector has been attempting to reconcile for dwindling profit margins in a high-cost environment, where rising expenses combine with heavy debt loads that are among the highest of any nonfinancial sector — and this is all in spite of increasing wireless demand.

The story’s the same for firms abroad. China MobileLimited and majority Sprint-owner SoftBank Corp., the third- and fourth-largest telecom firms on the Global 2000 list, respectively, each took a slight hit in the global rankings. China Mobile reported a first-time drop in 4G subscribers in April, with commentators noting that the Chinese mobile market is increasingly showing signs of maturation. And meanwhile, it remains unclear to date whether Sprint’s effort to consolidate with fellow American wireless titan T-Mobile will end up successful.

Japan’s Nippon Telegraph and Telephone rounds out the top 5 and moves down one spot from 2017. The once government-owned former monopoly collected the equivalent of about $105 billion in revenue last year as price competition cut into the firm’s market cap and profit growth.

Later this year, the S&P will debut its new sector realignment, nixing the current telecommunications services group in favor of a new communications sector – one where AT&T and Verizon are joined by the likes of Netflix, Alphabet and Facebook. But regardless of groupings, and for now and the foreseeable future, the world’s largest telecom companies are undeniably a force to be reckoned with.

1. AT&T United States

  • Sales: $159 billion
  • Profit: $31 billion
  • Assets: $446 billion
  • Market Value: $198 billion

2. Verizon Communications | United States

  • Sales: $128 billion
  • Profit: $31 billion
  • Assets: $265 billion
  • Market Value: $201 billion

3. China Mobile | China-Hong Kong

  • Sales: $109 billion
  • Profit: $17 billion
  • Assets: $234 billion
  • Market Value: $193 billion

4. SoftBank | Japan

  • Sales: $83 billion
  • Profit: $9 billion
  • Assets: $293 billion
  • Market Value: $85 billion

5. Nippon Telegraph & Telephone | Japan

  • Sales: $105 billion
  • Profit: $8 billion
  • Assets: $191 billion
  • Market Value: $96 billion

6. Deutsche Telekom | Germany

  • Sales: $85 billion
  • Profit: $4 billion
  • Assets: $179 billion
  • Market Value: $81 billion

7. Telefónica | Spain

  • Sales: $60 billion
  • Profit: $3 billion
  • Assets: $141 billion
  • Market Value: $51 billion

8. KDDI | Japan

  • Sales: $45 billion
  • Profit: $5 billion
  • Assets: $62 billion
  • Market Value: $66 billion

9. China Telecom | China

  • Sales: $54 billion
  • Profit: $3 billion
  • Assets: $102 billion
  • Market Value: $39 billion

10. Orange | France

  • Sales: $46 billion
  • Profit: $2 billion
  • Assets: $116 billion
  • Market Value: $48 billion – Forbes
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