PetroChina becomes world's biggest firm

It is another symbol of the way in which the world of capitalism is shifting on its axis. PetroChina, the listed arm of China's state oil business, has become the largest company in the world, surpassing its rivals in the West.

Traders in Shanghai, where the stock is listed, marked PetroChina up by 3 per cent yesterday morning, giving it a market value of $336bn. The gains were enough to propel the company to the top ranking in the list of the world's most valuable companies.

The margin is thin – a mere $100m – but PetroChina is now ahead of Exxon Mobil of the US in those rankings and, on present trends, it may not take long to widen the lead. Chinese shares are up by 43 per cent this year, while the US market has slipped by 1.8 per cent.

Moreover, the long-term outlook for Chinese energy companies is one of growth – certainly much more so than in the US and elsewhere, giving global investors every reason to drive PetroChina higher. "If you have to buy an energy stock, you want to buy the dominant one in China," said Gordon Kwan, head of energy research at Mirae Asset Securities, a Hong Kong-based investment company. "China's fuel demand is growing, while in America and Europe demand is actually falling."

The company's ascendancy mirrors that of China's national economy, which overtook Germany in January to become the world's third largest. Economists believe China will move ahead of Japan, currently number two on the list, within three to four years, leaving only the US ahead of it. China could be number one by 2030.

Chinese companies are already well represented in the global rankings, accounting for four of the top slots, with Industrial Bank of China, China Mobile and China Petroleum in addition to PetroChina. The US also has four – Exxon, Walmart, AT&T and Microsoft – while Russia's Gazprom is also up there. Shell, the Anglo-Dutch oil giant, completes the top 10.

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