Wal-Mart tops valuable brands chart

With a global recession under way, food retailers are the new consumer champions. For the first time, Wal-Mart has topped Brand Finance’s Global 500 list of the world’s most valuable brands.

The supermarket has knocked Coca-Cola, incumbent since the research began in 2007, into second place. Wal-Mart has risen three places to take the number one position with a brand value of $40.6bn (£27.7bn).

David Haigh, chief executive at Brand Finance, explains: “Wal-Mart is a hero to people in a recession. That’s why its market capacity, its turnover and its favourability in the US has been rising dramatically as the recession has come on.”

It’s not all bad news for Coke, however. It is still the dominant beverage brand on the list. While Coca-Cola’s total enterprise value of $104.5bn (£71.2bn) is just 22% greater than that of Pepsi (which is 21st in the table), the Coke brand is 118% more valuable than its arch-rival.

Although US brands contribute 44% of the Global 500’s total value, companies from emerging markets are also making their mark. There are 13 more brands originating from Asia in this year’s list, with 17 fewer North American brands. Haigh notes that this indicates a trend that is set to continue: “I think over the next five years, a whole range of mid-market or mid-sized brands from the emerging markets will start appearing in Europe.”

One sector that is holding its own in these dismal economic times is telecoms. New technology has bolstered consumer interest with the launch of smartphones at reasonable prices on mainstream contracts.

The sector as a whole has leapfrogged banking to become the most valuable top ten by cumulative brand value at $148.8bn (£101.6bn). Vodafone is the lead telecoms brand, taking a top ten position for the first time with a brand value of $24.6bn (£16.8bn) (see case study).

Banking has slipped by 33% since last year to an aggregate value of $128.6bn (£87.8bn) in the top ten with an overall decline in brand value of $209bn (£143bn) across the Global Financial top 500. Despite this fall in sector position, HSBC – which is valued at $25.4bn (£17.3bn) – increased its brand rating as defined by Brand Finance as it has strong positions in emerging markets.

The likes of beleaguered financial company Citigroup have tumbled down the table from tenth to 54th. However, there are still more banking brands than any other sector in the top 500 with 77, followed by retail with 56.

Mainstream brands

Another sector to fall on hard times is the car industry. Its woes have been well publicised, but Japanese manufacturer Toyota has moved from 13th to tenth position. Volkswagen has also leapt up to 44th from 95th, which the company attributes to its shift to advertising mainstream brands that appeal to consumers in the economic downturn (see case study).

However, the car industry’s enterprise value attributable to brand is typically lower compared with other service industries such as banking and insurance.

But this is not seen across the board. While global intangible asset values have dropped by about 35% for the top 500 companies globally, their cumulative brand value has fallen just 24%.

Haigh says: “One of the features across the board is the value of brands is far less volatile than the value of companies.”

He predicts those with a strong brand value in the top 500 will bounce back from the recession faster than rivals as those with money look for the strongest places to invest for 2010.

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