Interactive Investor

A decade of spectacular growth for Europe’s 10 biggest companies

Financial markets have been packed with drama over the past 10 years, but companies respond to events very differently. Lucas Tumilty-Gutierrez explains what’s triggered significant change among Europe’s leading companies over the past 10 years.

The interchanging of positions in Europe’s table of top 10 companies over the past decade seems chaotic, but amid the frenzy there remains a constant - the spectacular growth of three of Europe’s biggest businesses.

Pharmaceuticals firm Novo Nordisk A/S ADR (XETRA:NOVA), luxury goods giant LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE (EURONEXT:MC) and semiconductor industry supplier ASML Holding NV (EURONEXT:ASML) today have a combined market capitalisation of more than £870 billion, six times greater than it was 10 years ago. But this spectacular growth has been driven by more than low interest rates and easy money.

We took Europe’s 10 largest companies at the end of November 2013 and tracked their progress against one another over the next 10 years. Our findings show exactly how this trio outperformed some of Europe’s most successful businesses to rise to the top.

Past performance is no guide to future performance. Chart made with Flourish

While the focus remains on the three best-performing companies, it is important to mention how the remaining seven companies have done, and in most cases, underperformed.

It is perhaps more obvious why some of the more established firms such as Nestle SA (SIX:NESN), Shell (LSE:SHEL) and TotalEnergies SE (EURONEXT:TTE) have experienced a decade of slower progress compared to firms in growth sectors such as pharmaceuticals and technology. Growth stocks have benefited from ultra-low interest rates ever since the financial crisis, and more so over the last 10 years. Cheaper borrowing means more money for firms to invest and consumers to spend.

Ten years ago, Nestlé was Europe’s biggest company, but the Swiss food giant has been “dethroned”. Inflation has had a significant impact on the business; the rising cost of production forcing up the price of its products. The consequential drop in volume negatively affected organic growth, allowing both luxury goods firm LVMH and exciting drugs company Novo Nordisk A/S ADR (XETRA:NOVA) to overtake them in Europe’s corporate league table. Here’s how it happened.

Founded a century ago and now Europe’s biggest company, Novo Nordisk only experienced its major growth phase in the past few years. In its attempt to tackle chronic diseases such as diabetes and obesity, the Danish pharmaceutical company made its breakthrough via two Semaglutide-based medications: Ozempic and Wegovy. The drug Semaglutide, developed by the company, increases the level of insulin in your body, which helps decrease your blood sugar levels.

Both Ozempic and Wegovy are a form of injectable Semaglutide. Ozempic is used to treat type 2 diabetes, while Wegovy targets weight-loss and long-term weight management. The difference between the two are the conditions and dosages needed to have the desired effect.

In early August 2023, the company said that Semaglutide 2.4-mg reduces major cardiovascular events in overweight adults by 20%. This news helped boost the company’s market capitalisation by almost £50 billion, or 20% in just one month.

Novo Nordisk announced a 31% increase in operating profit (in Danish kroner) in the first nine months of 2023. And analysts at Morgan Stanley are confident in the outlook, rating the stock as overweight, implying that the business will exceed performance expectations. Their analysts also believe the company will be able to generate sustainable revenue growth over the coming years, predicting 30% growth over the next 12 months, with the only real possible downside threat cited as stagnation in the obesity market.

Following the merger of Louis Vuitton and Moet Hennessy in 1987, LVMH has become one of Europe’s biggest companies and the largest global supplier of luxury goods.

Owned by billionaire Bernard Arnault, the conglomerate is most recognisable through its ownership of luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton, Moët & Chandon, Hennessy, Gucci, Dior and Tiffany & Co. It prides itself on its quality and is the only company to represent all five sectors of the luxury market: Wines & Spirits, Fashion & Leather Goods, Perfumes & Cosmetics, Watches & Jewellery and Selective Retailing.

Using a policy of decentralisation, LVMH wants each business to grow individually, while also creating “firm synergies” such as shared research projects to maintain individuality and avoid head-on competition. This ensures diversification, originality, and creativity across the individual “Maisons”.

As a company, LVMH aims to achieve organic growth through reinvestment into the individual Maisons, something that’s underpinned consistent expansion over the last decade. In fact, the company achieved 14% organic revenue growth in the first nine months of 2023, with every sector except Wines & Spirits producing positive growth.

While LVMH was undoubtedly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, the nature of its products meant they were more resilient to negative impacts. As their target customers are typically more affluent, demand within their markets was more resilient than elsewhere, even in tough economic conditions.

Historically low interest rates through the 2010s also provided many other consumers with greater disposable incomes, increasing demand and boosting organic revenue growth at LVMH.

Company

Position in 2023

Change

Market cap (£m)

Market cap growth

Novo Nordisk A/S ADR (XETRA:NOVA)

1

+6

358,623

495%

Lvmh Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE (EURONEXT:MC)

2

+6

302,519

424%

Nestle SA (SIX:NESN)

3

-1

240,801

69%

ASML Holding NV (EURONEXT:ASML)

4

+6

211,875

735%

Roche Holding AG (SIX:ROG)

5

-4

172,590

19%

Shell (LSE:SHEL)

6

-1

168,080

113%

Novartis AG Registered Shares (SIX:NOVN)

7

-4

158,939

35%

AstraZeneca (LSE:AZN)

8

+1

156,946

256%

SAP SE (XETRA:SAP)

9

-3

146,664

143%

TotalEnergies SE (EURONEXT:TTE)

10

-6

126,809

51%

Source: Morningstar. All data as at 30 November 2023. Change and market cap growth is between 30 November 2013 and 30 November 2023.

Despite almost egregious growth early in the decade - when its market capitalisation had fallen almost £3.9 billion, or 15.2% by 30 April 2014, and zero growth as at September 2015 - ASML Holding NV (EURONEXT:ASML) became the fastest-growing of Europe’s 10 biggest companies. 

Many think that ASML makes microchips, but it actually manufactures the photolithography machines which semiconductor companies use to print patterns on to microchips.

A big reason for their success is their monopoly in extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography. ASML began its expansion into the area with the acquisition of Cymer, a lithography light source manufacturer, a decade ago in 2013.

The advantage gained from producing EUV lithography machines is that they allow more transistors to fit on to microchips. This is ASML’s contribution to Moore’s Law, which states that the number of transistors on microchips will double every two years.

This cutting-edge technology is unique to ASML, giving them a lead in the semiconductor industry. In 2016, customers such as Intel and Samsung bought ASML’s latest system - the NXE:3400 - in batches. This was when ASML really took off.

Despite growing more than 700% over the last decade, the Dutch company is seizing opportunities to continue expanding at a considerable rate. They recently agreed a $760 million deal with Samsung on a research plant for EUV technology to make microchips in South Korea. This is a big boost for ASML after tighter supply restrictions imposed by the Dutch government linked to the manufacture and export of semiconductor equipment to China.

On 30 November, ASML announced that Christophe Fouquet, who has already been at the firm for 15 years, will become the new president and CEO following the retirement of co-presidents Peter Wennink and Martin van den Brink. Despite the management reorganisation, the overall reaction is positive, with ASML’s share price nudging €700 in Amsterdam towards the end of 2023, up 27% from €550 six weeks earlier.

Despite dramatic changes at the top of the table, there was plenty of switching among the remaining firms in the list of Europe’s 10 biggest companies. Oil major Total had the biggest fall of all, dropping to last place in November 2023 having started the decade in fourth spot.

The worst performer was Roche Holding AG (SIX:ROG), starting the 10-year period as Europe’s biggest company by market capitalisation, but ending the decade four places lower in fifth. It experienced the lowest growth in size, adding just 19% over the last 10 years. Novartis AG Registered Shares (SIX:NOVN) was also on the lower end of the growth scale, realising just 35%, the second lowest of the 10 companies. 

Despite more than doubling in size, renowned oil producer Shell fell one place in the list, ending the period as Europe’s sixth-biggest company.

The past decade has provided an amazing insight into the development of European stock markets and the massive companies that inhabit them. Growth sectors have thrived, while other industries have struggled to expand. With the advent of artificial intelligence, green energy, electric vehicles and any number of other major themes, it begs the question: which companies in Europe will be the biggest in 10 years’ time?

These articles are provided for information purposes only.  Occasionally, an opinion about whether to buy or sell a specific investment may be provided by third parties.  The content is not intended to be a personal recommendation to buy or sell any financial instrument or product, or to adopt any investment strategy as it is not provided based on an assessment of your investing knowledge and experience, your financial situation or your investment objectives. The value of your investments, and the income derived from them, may go down as well as up. You may not get back all the money that you invest. The investments referred to in this article may not be suitable for all investors, and if in doubt, an investor should seek advice from a qualified investment adviser.

Full performance can be found on the company or index summary page on the interactive investor website. Simply click on the company's or index name highlighted in the article.