It was a year of mergers, acquisitions, de-mergers and spin-offs for Sydney’s leading listed companies in 2021, as the shocks that sidelined investors in 2020 spurred new opportunities in a still emerging ‘new normal’ world defined by vaccination, inflation and a scramble for assets.
The renewed confidence that came rushing back to the market is reflected in the almost $200 billion increase – or a rise of 29 per cent – in the combined capital value of the 2021 Sydney Top Companies list over the past year. This growth rate is seven percentage points higher than the All Ords.
The 50 companies in this list are now worth more than $860 billion, with gains across the banking, property, construction, health, insurance, transport and technology sectors.
The biggest increases came at the top with Commonwealth Bank of Australia (ASX: CBA) and Westpac (ASX: WBC) accounting for almost half the capital growth as the banks benefitted from increased home lending and business financing – and on the back of lower-than-expected loan impairments.
Companies exposed to the property sector also enjoyed significant gains, with development giants Stockland (ASX: SGP) and Mirvac (ASX: MGR) riding the residential boom in detached housing.
Property investment groups were buoyed by a rebound in asset valuations after a swag of impairments to office and retail holdings hit their bottom lines in FY20.
While the gains were not shared by all, more than 80 per cent of the companies on this year’s list have seen their share valuations increase.
However, a relentless slide in the AGL share price has led the power-generation company join the cellar dwellers of this year’s list. The slide couldn’t be halted by news that AGL plans to split the business in a demerger of its coal-fired power business from its clean-energy assets.
Others, such as Washington H Soul Pattinson (ASX: SOL), were boosted through mergers. Soul Patts sealed its union with Milton Corp to create a $13.78 billion investment giant, making Milton among the notable departures in this year’s list.
Coca-Cola Amatil is another to go, after the drinks group was bought out by Coke’s European operations in a deal worth $9.8 billion.
If this list were published just two weeks earlier it would have spelled the absence of troubled insurance and investment major AMP (ASX: AMP) for the first time, having seen its market capitalisation slip about 30 per cent in 12 months as the group continues to deal with the fallout from the banking royal commission. However, the company scraped in by a whisker.
There was the rise and fall of two technology stocks with 2020 newcomer Appen (ASX: APX), an artificial intelligence company, pushed out of the top 50 as its shares suffered from earnings downgrades. The Appen shares are 75 per cent down on October last year.
However, global logistics software specialist WiseTech (ASX: WTC) has shot to new heights, driven by its strategic position capitalising on the online retail boom that has led to a near doubling of its market cap.
Among the notable newcomers this year is Endeavour Group (ASX: EDV), the beverage supplier that was spun-off from Woolworths (ASX: WOW) in June. Endeavour, which had a strong run during the pandemic as the owner of bottle shop chains Dan Murphy's and BWS, takes its place among Sydney’s top 20 companies.
Domain Holdings Australia also makes its debut thanks to the run for property amid the great pandemic migration, helping drive stronger earnings for the property platform.
Even though there has been stellar growth, there was no shortage of challenges for companies from the top down in this year’s list.
The banking sector continues to grapple with the rise of new e-payment platforms and retailers are looking at new ways to engage with customers digitally.
For others there is the ongoing risks involved in returning to the new economic paradigm, including the ongoing threats of supply-chain disruptions and international travel barriers.
Despite the scale and longevity of most of the companies in this list, five of them are still led by their entrepreneurial founders – Greg Goodman, of Goodman Group (ASX: GMG), Richard White of Wisetech Global (ASX: WTC), Jake Klein of Evolution Mining (ASX: EVN), Hamish Douglass of Magellan Financial Group (ASX: MFG) and Robert Kelly of Steadfast Group (ASX: SDF).
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