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Most Americans probably wouldn’t be very surprised by the biggest companies in this year’s Fortune 500. In order, they are Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE:WMT), Exxon Mobil Corporation (NYSE:XOM), Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL), and Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK.A, NYSE:BRK.B).
That’s not necessarily a coincidence. Many of the largest companies that do business in the U.S. or are listed on U.S. public markets aren’t very well-known. Sometimes that’s because the businesses are “boring” or behind the scenes. Other times, it’s because those companies don’t seek out the limelight.Those four companies combined generate almost $1.2 billion in revenue, and are among the best-known businesses in the world, not just the U.S. But I would imagine few Americans have even heard of the #5 company on the list. (Answer to come shortly.)
Here’s a list of 10 of the largest companies that most of us never even have heard of.
Companies You’ve Never Heard Of: Cargill
You may not have heard of Cargill, but it is one of the biggest companies (and one of the most important) in the U.S. Indeed, Cargill is responsible for many of the foods you eat on a daily basis.
The Minnesota-based company has a presence in multiple places on the American food chain. It sells eggs, beef and turkey products to food-service operators in the U.S. and around the world. It helps farmers manage, store, distribute and insure their crops. It even supplies the base for antacids and throat lozenges.
It all adds up to good business: By revenue, Cargill is the largest privately owned company in the United States. The founding Cargill family still owns 88% of the company, according to Forbes, which looks like a wise decision. There are now 14 billionaires in the family, which no doubt makes for some fancy Thanksgiving dinners (of premium Cargill turkey, of course).
Companies You’ve Never Heard Of: Tata Motors (TTM)
The name Tata Motors Limited (ADR) (NYSE:TTM) may be unfamiliar to most Americans, but its luxury brands are not. Tata bought Jaguar Land Rover from Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F) in 2008, and has restored both the Jaguar and Land Rover brands to their former prominence.
Tata also is one of the biggest companies, and the largest auto manufacturer, in the fast-growing market of India. Tata has 13% market share for personal vehicles and over 40% in commercial, according to its annual report. That makes Tata a name investors should know as well.
Few companies of its size — TTM stock is worth $25 billion, and the company generated nearly $40 billion in revenue in its fiscal 2016 — have the growth opportunities that Tata does. In India, a population over 1.2 billion offers decades of potential market growth. And overseas, the continued improvement of Jaguar and Land Rover adds more room for earnings increases.
The irony of an Indian company resurrecting famous brands of the British elite has been noted by many observers. But the growth possibilities for Tata are worth mentioning as well.
Companies You’ve Never Heard Of: Taiwan Semiconductor
Most Americans are more than familiar with Intel Corporation (NASDAQ:INTC), the world’s largest semiconductor company by revenue and valuation. That company has spent billions of dollars over the past decade marketing its chips to consumers, most recently with television ads starring The Big Bang Theory star Jim Parsons.
But Taiwan Semiconductor Mfg. Co. Ltd. (ADR) (NYSE:TSM) is a worthy rival to the better-known Intel. While Intel is the 32nd most valuable company listed on U.S. exchanges, Taiwan Semiconductor is not far behind, as the 43rd-biggest company. That’s because Taiwan Semi actually is better at driving profits than Intel; It has less than half the revenue, but nearly the same amount of profits. (Perhaps because TSM doesn’t have the expense of all those fancy commercials.)
And with reports of late suggesting that Taiwan Semi will be the sole supplier of processors to Apple’s iPhone going forward, after displacing Samsung Electronics (OTCMKTS:SSNLF), TSM stock may soon be worth more than that of its larger, more famous, American counterpart.
Companies You’ve Never Heard Of: Sysco
Like Cargill, Sysco Corporation (NYSE:SYY) is an integral part of the American food chain, with a huge reach. Sysco has generated nearly $50 billion in revenue over the past year, putting it at No. 57 on the Fortune 500.
The company distributes food products of all kinds to restaurants, colleges, hotels and other “away from home” businesses such as nursing homes and even prisons.
Sysco is a relatively newer player, however, and its growth has been impressive and consistent. According to its website, it had just $115 million in revenue when SYY stock became public in 1970. It now does over 400 times that much business. So great is its market share, in fact, that in 2015 the U.S. government blocked its purchase of privately held US Foods.
The government argued, essentially, that Sysco would become too big. That’s quite an achievement for a company that less than 50 years ago was one of the smallest players in its market. But with U.S. population and food demand, and international opportunities (including a large presence in Ireland), Sysco still has room to grow.
Companies You’ve Never Heard Of: Koch Industries
Privately held Koch Industries likely is a bit better known than it used to be — likely to the chagrin of David and Charles Koch, two of four brothers still involved with the company founded by their father, Fred Koch.
The Koch brothers have gained some notoriety in the political world, with liberals criticizing and conservatives welcoming their spending on a variety of causes. In response, Koch Industries has run a public relations campaign to improve the image of both itself and its founding family.
Still, Koch flies under the radar for most Americans not inclined to follow the political circus on a daily basis — but that doesn’t mean it’s an insignificant company. Koch Industries operates over 4,000 miles of oil and gas pipelines, manages cattle ranches and manufactures electrical components. It also owns well-known consumer brands.
Its Georgia-Pacific unit makes Brawny paper towels and Quilted Northern bath tissue. Another Koch business manufactures Stainmaster carpet and Lycra fabric. There’s no doubt even those ardently opposed to the Koch family’s political leanings use the company’s products every day. And there’s little doubt that often, they don’t even know it.
Companies You’ve Never Heard Of: INTL Fcstone (INTL)
INTL Fcstone (NASDAQ:INTL) might be the most unknown name on this list — and it almost certainly is the cheapest stock. INTL has a market cap of just over $700 million at the moment, despite fiscal 2016 revenue near $15 billion.
But INTL is a key part of the global financial system, clearing and executing trades in the commodity, currency and stock markets across the world. In the global commodities market, in particular, INTL FCStone is a key cog, as witnessed by its revenue numbers. In fiscal 2012, INTL generated $66 billion in revenue. The huge decline has come because commodity prices have fallen — not because INTL necessarily is doing less business.
As a stock, INTL is one of the more interesting plays in the market at the moment. With one of the largest businesses in the financial world, the stock still looks cheap, trading at roughly 13 times its fiscal 2016 earnings. Certainly, many investors likely have never heard of the company — and that might provide an opportunity for those that have.
Companies You’ve Never Heard Of: Tech Data (TECD)
Fiscal 2017 revenue should be around $36 billion, easily enough to push Tech Data into the Fortune 100. That’s $36 billion worth of computers, smartphones, tablets and servers that go from manufacturers to customers with Tech Data’s help.
Investors loved the Avent purchase, driving TECD stock up 22% in a single day on the news. And there’s reason to be optimistic going forward as well. IT distribution is a very difficult business: companies like Tech Data and Avnet usually make just a penny or two on each dollar in sales.
It’s why “bigger is better” is generally the rule in the space, and why TECD stock benefited so much from its expansion. But with technology only getting more important, and more complicated, there’s little reason to think TECD can’t continue to grow — both in terms of sales and profits.
Companies You’ve Never Heard Of: McKesson (MCK)
Yes, McKesson Corporation (NYSE:MCK) is the number five company in the Fortune 500 – even though few of us have even heard its name. But it’s not just McKesson’s size that makes it important.
McKesson describes itself as both the oldest and the largest healthcare company in the U.S. The company distributes roughly one-third of all prescription drugs in the United States. It also supplies doctors and hospitals with supplies such as bandages, thermometers and exam tables (plus the paper on those tables that is so comfortable to sit on).
The company even has a large technology division that provides key data and improves communication among doctors, health insurance companies and patients.
McKesson is a vital part of the U.S. health care system, and critical to the health, and very lives, of millions of Americans. Yet, outside of its HealthMart pharmacy brand, few of those Americans likely know it even exists.
Companies You’ve Never Heard Of: China Life Insurance (LFC)
If being the largest life insurer in the world’s most-populated country sounds like good business, it is.China Life Insurance Company Ltd. (ADR) (NYSE:LFC) is worth almost $100 billion, making it one of the most valuable companies in China — or anywhere else.
LFC generated U.S. $5 billion in after-tax profit in 2015. That’s 35% more than MetLife Inc (NYSE:MET), the largest life insurance company in the U.S. In fact, LFC is worth nearly as much as MetLife and Prudential plc (NYSE:PUK) put together.
There’s little reason to see China Life Insurance’s growth slowing, as more Chinese join the middle class and have extra income to provide for their families. But investors do need to be a bit wary: LFC is roughly 70% owned by the Chinese government.
That might imply an extra amount of risk in LFC stock, as being a minority investor alongside a one-party government has the possibility of turning out badly. Still, LFC has the largest market in the world — and that seems enticing.
Companies You’ve Never Heard Of: World Fuel Services (INT)
You may not have heard of World Fuel Services Corp (NYSE:INT), but you should hope they do their job well. Without it, the world economy literally would stop.
WFS distributes fuel across the world, most notably for commercial airlines and military aircraft. It also provides assistance in detailing flight plans and understanding weather reports to keep those WFS-fueled planes safe.
World Fuel Services also has a marine segment, which supplies commercial tankers and cruise ships with their fuel. On land, WFS gets gasoline to pumps across the U.S. It is a critical, yet unknown, part of the world’s infrastructure.
There are some near-term concerns around INT stock, which fell almost 14% in one day in October after earnings disappointed relative to analyst projections. But this still is a company in the Fortune 100, with critical importance to its customers. It’s not as if cruise ships — or F-16’s — can fill their tanks out of red cans, or switch suppliers at will. Once oil jitters settle, it seems likely that INT will benefit.