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Highlights of The Asiaweek 1000 in 2000

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The 1999 Asiaweek 1000
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As Giants Rise
Highlights of The Asiaweek 1000 in 2000

The 1000 Biggest Companies

Restructuring, one might say, is like creating something out of nothing. Or less than nothing. For instance, if a company's sales fall, so should profits, right? Not with the magic of restructuring. Just ask the bean counters at Mitsui & Co., the sogo shosha, or general trading company, that has topped The Asiaweek 1000 ranking of the largest companies in the region since 1997. Last year sales fell 5.6% in yen terms. And profits? Up nearly a fifth.

It's much the same story for a host of leading companies in the 1000, from third-ranked Toyota Motor to consumer electronics giant Matsushita Electric (No. 9) and utility Chubu Electric (No. 41). Toyota may not have scored the huge profits of the region's most profitable venture, Hutchison Whampoa. Hong Kong-based Hutchison got a one-time boost from the sale of its stakes in British cellphone network Orange and Germany's Mannesmann group. No such asset-shuffling luck for Toyota; its bottom line of $3.57 billion was $12 billion less than Hutchison's. Still, Toyota managed a 14.2% increase in net income even as sales rose just 1%. How? Restructuring: the carmaker has slashed costs and streamlined operations.

Many other corporate behemoths are learning the same lessons. One of the strongest trends in the 2000 edition of the 1000 ranking: across Asia, companies are scrambling to boost efficiency, profitability and innovation, especially in Japan. Restructuring, combined with the regional economic rebound and the surge in oil prices, helped lift bottom lines in many companies. Among the top 100, notable beneficiaries of leaner and meaner strategies include electronics manufacturers Matsushita Electric (profits up 636% on sales down 4.5%) and Sharp Corp. (No. 54, profits up fivefold on sales up 6.3%). Sogo shosha Marubeni (No. 7) and Nissho Iwai (No. 10) grossed about 15% less, but managed to swing back into the black.

Some Japanese companies still don't get it, though, judging from their vital statistics. State-controlled Japan Tobacco (No. 18) puffed up sales by 12.8%. But profits slid by nearly a third. Turnover at Tokyo Electric (No. 16) held steady, but net income was down one-tenth. Tohoku Electric (No. 71) did even worse; its gains dropped by two-fifths even as gross revenues inched up by 2.5%. Compare those utilities with Chubu Electric: its turnover also stagnated, yet net income advanced by 87%. And in a year when oil prices were climbing, one has to ask what was going on at oil explorer Japan Energy Corp. (No. 49) and refiner-distributor Idemitsu Kosan (No. 51). The former went into the red despite a 12.4% surge in sales, while the latter saw profits retreat by almost a quarter despite grossing 14% more.

The boon of skyrocketing oil prices is easier to spot and predict. Thank crude's tripling in value since the depths of the Asian Crisis in 1998 for spectacular gains at leading oil companies. Malaysia's state-owned Petronas (No. 55) was third in profits among the 1000, netting $3.3 billion, an 85% surge, on sales of nearly $16 billion, up 43%. Another government oil company, Pertamina of Indonesia (No. 48), grossed 25.7% — and netted 374% more. Caltex Trading, a Singapore subsidiary of the U.S. petroleum concern, jumped from No. 65 in the 1000 last year to No. 43 in the current ranking, on the back of a 60% surge in sales to $18.9 billion — retaining its place as Southeast Asia's largest business.

Asia's rebound from the Crisis, propelled mainly by exports, is the third factor that shaped the 1000 of 2000. Whether it is Samsung Electronics' (No. 28) swing back to profits of $2.9 billion, riding the microchip boom, or the 35% rise in net income at Thai Airways (No. 413) to $140 million, the recovery rolls on. Which is another reason for Asia to use the upswing to get on with the restructuring pronto.

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