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In April, Gazprom surpassed Microsoft to become the world’s third most valuable company. This month, China Mobile’s market capitalisation exceeded Vodafone’s and Brazil’s CVRD launched an $18bn unsolicited cash bid for Canadian miner Inco. After the rise of the so-called BRICs – Brazil, Russia, India and China – is the next economic phenomenon to terrify the west the emerging market mega-corporation?

So far, that would reflect paranoia not fact. Just 16 of the world’s top 200 companies by value are from emerging markets (including China’s Hong Kong) – or 9 per cent of market cap. That is higher than in 1996 when representation was limited to 3 per cent of capitalisation and a handful of Hong Kong property firms and now-marginal telephony incumbents. But the non-developed world’s weight in the top 200 is still only on a par with France. The US, meanwhile, accounts for 46 per cent of market cap and 83 companies: about the same as in 1996. Japan’s weight has, however, more than halved.

BRIC countries, in spite of all the hype, only represent about a tenth of global economic output at market prices. Their mega-corporations are largely state-backed energy concerns such as Petrochina, Rosneft and Petrobras. China also has two banks, an insurer and China Mobile, all state controlled. Only Mexico’s America Movil and Hutchison Whampoa are entrepreneurial, and both are the creatures of individual magnates.

These companies want to expand overseas through acquisitions and with net debt equivalent to just 9 per cent of market capitalisation, they have, perhaps, $200bn-$300bn of notional firepower. Yet state control impedes truly transformational deals. It limits the issue of new shares and puts off most sellers: witness CNOOC’s abortive bid for Unocal.

Predatory behaviour from emerging countries’ existing giants will become common, but rising corporate power is as likely to be a product of domestic consolidation and further privatisations. Perhaps one day, India’s state railway, with 1.5m employees, will be the biggest restructuring story of all time.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
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