When you build an investment portfolio using ETFs, you’ll usually be buying stocks from a wealth of different companies. A lot of these will be brands you recognise, with S&P 500 ETFs featuring the likes of Apple and Amazon, for example.
In some cases, however, you might see holdings in large companies you’ve never heard of. There are businesses with revenues in the tens of billions of dollars that the majority of people won’t be aware that they’re using. These largely business-to-business (B2B) firms don’t market to consumers, but are behind some of the most popular products on the market.
So, here are six of the biggest companies on planet earth that you’ve probably never heard of.
RELX PLC is a British company with a market cap of £44.2 billion, but you won’t find many people in the UK that are aware of it. Previously known as Reed Elsevier, the company moved away from the publishing industry years ago, selling the New Scientist magazine in 2017.
Instead, the company has pivoted to providing commercial, scientific and legal data and analysis tools. It also has an enormous events business. By switching to analytics and diversifying its business, RELX has managed to avoid going the way of others in the publishing industry and remains a leading UK business. You’ll find it on many FTSE ETFs.
Ingram Micro is the world’s largest wholesale technology distributor. It produces computers, printers, storage devices, software etc., supplying the likes of IMB, Nokia, Microsoft and Intel products to resellers all across the US and worldwide.
Founded in 1979, the business has a revenue of $54.5 billion in 2021, but many of those that benefit from its products wouldn’t be able to name it. Essentially, Ingram Micro exists between the manufacturers and the distributors, so has no real interest in advertising to the public. It also has a very successful supply chain business.
Altria is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of tobacco products. It operates worldwide and had an income of $21.11 billion in 2021, owning Marlboro cigarettes along with Kraft foods and Maxwell House coffee. Altria was born during the rebranding of Philip Morris Companies in 2003 (a company you might have heard of). As such, the brand has managed to distance itself from its tobacco heritage.
Naturally, given the industry that Altria operates in, you won’t find it included in many ESG ETFs. This is simply an example of a business gaining relative anonymity through a rebrand, something anti-tobacco groups have criticised it for.
Ok, you might have heard of this one. In fact, you’ll find it on the Nasdaq listed as GOOGL. It does, however, still come under the umbrella of companies that many people don’t know that they interact with on a daily basis.
Alphabet is the parent company of Google as well as its various subsidiaries. These include the likes of Fitbit, Waze and Nest, along with YouTube. This is a classic example of a company that contains brands everyone will be aware of, but many may not know that it all exists under one roof at Alphabet. Unsurprisingly, Alphabet is featured on many of our ETFs.
This is another company that people may be aware of, but many in the US will be unaware they interact with it on a near daily basis. Cargill is the largest privately held corporation in the US in terms of revenue, bringing in a staggering $114.7 billion in 2018. Founded in 1865, Cargill is a true giant both in terms of its reach and its staying power.
Cargill is the world’s largest food business. It is often criticised for practices seen as unethical and you’ll find numerous think pieces considering whether or not Cargill is, in fact, the world’s worst company. Because it’s privately held, you won’t be able to buy stock in Cargill and it is not included in any of our ETFs for that reason.
Time for another heavy hitter. Saudi Aramco – or the Saudi Arabian Oil Company – is the world’s largest oil and gas company. In fact, it’s one of the largest companies in the world in terms of revenues, with 2021 seeing it pull in $359.2 billion (the most on our list by far).
It employs nearly 70,000 people and is owned by the government of Saudi Arabia, but it’s not a company many ordinary consumers would necessarily be aware of. You’ll find it in a few of our ETFs, particularly those focused on emerging markets.
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