Speaking of... : INDUSTRIAL POWERHOUSES

Compiled by Times researcher Kevin Fox

The United States continues to hold its lead as the No. 1 industrial powerhouse in the world, based on a survey of 1990 annual sales, the latest year for which complete figures are available. But American companies don't fare nearly as well on productivity, a key measure of economic health.

THE WORLD'S TOP 500: WHERE THEY ARE

No. of Sales Profits on Country Companies (in billions) Employees Sales United States 164 1,839.7 9,405,628 4.2% Japan 111 949.2 3,073,427 2.6 Germany 30 444.4 2,899,631 2.0 Britain 43 341.1 2,403,218 4.9 France 30 316.0 1,771,112 2.8 Italy 7 184.7 663,517 2.4 Britain/Neth.* 2 147.2 441,000 5.5 South Korea 11 121.9 299,833 0.5 Switzerland 11 113.1 724,140 4.6 Sweden 17 100.4 691,149 3.4 Netherlands 7 60.3 451,312 -- Canada 12 58 332,955 4.5 Australia 9 43.6 242,342 4.7 Spain 4 41.3 179,018 2.1 Finland 8 40.6 167,069 1.9 Belgium 4 34.6 115,184 4.6 Brazil 3 28.5 25,747 5.5 India 6 28.1 238,495 2.3 South Africa 4 25.9 271,278 11.2 Venezuela 1 23.5 51,883 10.2 Norway 2 21.2 46,264 4.6 Mexico 1 19.3 167,952 7.7 Turkey 3 18.5 72,547 3.8 Austria 1 13.6 77,781 0.5 Taiwan 1 8.9 22,287 4.0 New Zealand 1 7.1 40,000 5.4 Luxembourg 1 6.2 54,000 2.9 Portugal 1 6.0 34,500 0.4 Neth.Antilles 1 5.4 50,000 10.5 Zambia 1 4.6 NA -- Malaysia 1 4.2 8,107 26.2 Chile 1 3.3 26,723 18.6 Panama 1 2.7 30,000 --

Footnote: All figures are in U.S. dollars, with conversions made using the official average rate during each company's fiscal year (ended Dec. 31, 1990). Companies considered for this list must have derived more than 50% of sales from manufacturing or mining. NA means data not available. Dash indicates a loss.

* multinational partnerships. Source: FORTUNE Magazine

GLOBAL UPS AND DOWNS Down Auto makers: Profits plunged more than 50% over a year earlier despite increases in global sales. The biggest loser: General Motors. Up Germany: Reunification helped spur growth. German auto and consumer companies posted healthy gains. Down Eastern Europe: With markets in transition, economies continued to struggle. Up Oil companies: Five of the top 20 companies in total sales were refiners. Down Japan: Spurt in energy costs leading up to the Gulf War cut into profits.

GETTING THE MOST FROM A WORK FORCE Sales per employee is a good indicator of how productive a company and its employees are. Here are the most productive nations among those with at least seven of the world's biggest comanies. Country: Sales per Employee South Korea: $406,426 Japan: 308,837 Italy: 278,402 Finland: 242,857 United States: 195,595 France: 178,426 Canada: 174,225 Switzerland: 156,121 Germany: 153,248 Sweden: 145,227 Britain: 141,922 Netherlands: 133,569

TAKING CARE OF THE BOTTOM LINE

The 10 most profitable companies of 1990, based on returns on sales.

Company Country Returns on Sales De Beers Consolidated Mines South Africa 34.4% Whitbread Britain 29.9 Petronas Malaysia 26.2 Glaxo Holdings Britain 26.1 Merck U.S. 22.8 Guinness Britain 21.7 Eli Lilly U.S. 21.7 Codelco-Chile Chile 18.6 Smithkline Beecham Britain 17.9 American Home Products U.S. 17.8

WHAT THEY PRODUCE These are the top 10 industries, accounting for 333 of the world's biggest companies.

Number of Industry Group Companies Employees Petroleum Refining 54 1,673,636 Food 46 2,018,182 Electronics 45 3,949,344 Metals 41 2,082,581 Motor Vehicles and Parts 40 3,793,692 Industrial and Farm Equip. 28 1,254,983 Forest Products 26 719,127 Pharmaceuticals 19 678,905 Building Materials 18 683,622 Aerospace 16 1,225,811

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