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Global Undisclosed Intangible Asset Value Falls for First Time Since 2011

15 November 2019
This article is more than 1 year old.
  • Undisclosed intangible assets declined 8% year on year, reduction normally recorded only during recession
  • Among world’s 50 largest economies, 35 experienced fall in undisclosed intangible value relative to enterprise value
  • Automobiles, banking, and oil & gas sectors record very low proportion of undisclosed intangible value to total enterprise values
  • Microsoft overtakes Amazon as company with highest total intangible value, at US$904 billion

View the full Brand Finance GIFT™ 2019 report here

The value of undisclosed intangible assets globally has declined for the first time since 2011, falling 8% year on year, according to the Brand Finance Global Intangible Finance Tracker (GIFT™) 2019 report. The value of the world’s undisclosed intangible assets is now at US$35.4 trillion, compared to US$38.5 trillion the year before. This type of reduction is normally only recorded in years of recession.

At the same time, global enterprise value, understood as the total worth of the world’s publicly traded companies, stands at US$104.5 trillion, up from US$102.5 trillion last year. Despite the rise in total business value, this 2% growth is also the smallest growth recorded since 2011.

Both the stagnation of growth in total enterprise value and the decline in the value of undisclosed intangible assets reflect the conservative behaviour of investors in global markets over the last year, as global economic activity remains weak. Key sectors have lost momentum, with the proportion of undisclosed intangibles within enterprise value falling to levels of the 2007-2008 global financial crisis. This slowdown, paired with rising trade tensions between the world’s superpowers, has damaged global business confidence and investment.

David Haigh, CEO of Brand Finance, commented:

“The global economy has entered troubled waters. With little sign of political winds changing any time soon, its resilience will be tested to the limits. Should tensions between East and West continue, we could find ourselves full steam ahead on course towards the next global financial crisis.”

With the intangibles in decline, this year brought about a rebalancing of value between the two categories, with tangible assets - at 52% - now forming more than half of total global enterprise value. Undisclosed intangible assets are the balancing figure between market and book value, and therefore their decline is intrinsically connected to the decline of the market value of companies globally.

High proportion of undisclosed intangibles is sign of market trust

Looking at the trends on the national level, out of the top 50 countries globally by GDP, 35 have experienced a fall in undisclosed intangible value relative to their enterprise value.

The countries that have seen the greatest drop in their undisclosed intangible assets relative to their enterprise value year on year are Iraq (down 29 pp from 42% to 13%); Pakistan (down 28 pp from 31% to 3%); South Korea (down 21 pp from 0% to -21%); and India (down 16 pp from 47% to 31%).

In contrast, Romania’s (up 15 pp from -23% to -8%), Russia’s (up 12 pp from -15% to -3%) and Turkey’s (up 9 pp from -4% to 5%) undisclosed intangible asset values have entered recovery mode, recording an uptick in growth following turbulent years for all three countries.

More than a recovery story, Brazil is a standout country that has seemingly bucked the global trend with a 16 pp growth in undisclosed intangible asset value from 21% to 37% of the overall enterprise value. Brazil has focused on recovery since the sapping recession of 2015 and 2016.

The top 10 nations with highest percentage of undisclosed intangible asset value have recorded little change year on year, testament to their market stability. The list is made up of developed economies, with the exception of Indonesia and Vietnam – Southeast Asian countries recording consistent investment and growth levels over the past years. Denmark, United States, and Ireland rank highest, with 58%, 53%, and 51% of enterprise value attributable to undisclosed intangible assets respectively.

David Haigh, CEO of Brand Finance, commented:

“The list of countries with a high proportion of enterprise value residing in intangible assets does not surprise. The economies of the United States, Ireland, Nordic countries – all boast a solid reputation on the global stage. The combination of strong brands and market trust certainly helps cushion these countries from global economic turbulence.”

Trouble in auto, banking, and oil & gas sectors

The automobiles, banking, and oil & gas sectors stand out in the GIFT™ report due to a very low proportion of undisclosed intangible value in their total enterprise values.

The automobiles industry has just 1% undisclosed value, compared to 86% tangible net asset value. This marks a sharp drop from 16% undisclosed value last year, by more percentage points than any other sector in the past year. Initially more gradual, this decline from peak share of undisclosed intangibles at 28% in 2014, is a result of missed expectations in the sector. Auto companies have invested heavily in innovative technology, in particular electric and autonomous vehicles, in anticipation of increased global demand. However, such demand has not materialised, and the markets are now doubtful whether it ever will, especially with slowing economic growth in China.

Auto manufacturers Hyundai, Volkswagen, Daimler, Honda, and Nissan have the highest negative undisclosed intangible values in this year’s analysis – a direct correlation with their high exposure to the Chinese market. In contrast, Tesla, Ferrari, Toyota, Maruti Suzuki, and General Motors recorded positive undisclosed intangible values due to high sales volumes in the US.

David Haigh, CEO of Brand Finance, commented:

“Automotive companies have yet to reap the rewards of high investment in R&D, especially in autonomous and electric vehicle technology. If they want to stimulate demand and improve investor perception to recover their market value, their attention must focus on marketing and brand investment.”

At 5% of enterprise value, the banking sector has the second-lowest share of undisclosed intangibles behind only automobiles. Overall, the share of undisclosed intangible value in banking decreased 7 pp from 12% last year, as that of the tangible net asset value increased to 85%, and the enterprise value as a whole saw a dip of 2%. The absolute value of the banking sector remained considerably higher than any other’s, at a colossal US$16.4 trillion.

Globally, the banking sector will have to contend with the growing anticipation of a financial crisis, and the worldwide drop in interest rates, which will continue to impact levels of investment and economic growth.

The oil & gas sector has 8% undisclosed intangibles versus 85% tangible assets. The undisclosed value in this sector fluctuates significantly year on year, its highest in 2013 and again last year at 21%, to a low of -2% in 2015. This volatility echoes changing oil prices, including the crash of 2015. Now yet again, countries and companies alike are facing increased uncertainty in the face of the pessimistic outlook for the oil market, where prices and exports are expected to weaken due to lower global demand.

The OPEC+ agreed to extend oil output cuts until March 2020, a move that seeks to prevent prices from falling, as production in the US continues to soar. The ongoing concerns that oil storage is running low is also impacting the level of investments coming into the oil industry.

In addition, the combination of the Western world becoming ever more environmentally conscious and the rise of alternative fuels is putting increased long-term pressure on the sector.

Microsoft overtakes Amazon as world’s most intangible company

Every year, the Brand Finance GIFT™ report ranks the world’s most intangible companies and those with the highest levels of intangible asset disclosure.

The very nature of the internet & software and technology & IT sectors means they are heavily reliant on intangible assets. These companies have the ability to differentiate themselves with limited physical assets, defending price and demand. 25 internet & software and technology & IT companies feature in the top 100 ranking of companies with the highest total intangible value.

This year, Microsoft has overtaken Amazon to become the company with the highest total intangible value, at US$904 billion, compared with Amazon at US$839 billion. US$860 billion of Microsoft’s intangibles remain undisclosed, a jump from US$641 billion last year. 2019 has been a record-breaking year for Microsoft, which now boasts the largest commercial cloud business in the world.

Looking at levels of disclosure, AT&T, AB InBev, and Comcast Corporation are the most transparent companies in their reporting and take the top three ranks by disclosed intangible value.

AT&T reports US$310 billion of disclosed intangibles versus US$60 billion undisclosed. This is a trend across the telecoms sector as companies rely on securing contracts and high levels of customer engagement to succeed.

Second-placed AB InBev reports US$178 billion of intangibles on its balance sheet. At the end of 2016, AB InBev merged with SAB Miller in a record-breaking US$100 billion deal, simultaneously creating the world’s largest beer firm.

In third is Comcast Corporation, which reports US$164 billion of disclosed intangible assets, a jump from US$115 billion last year. In 2019 alone, Comcast has acquired three subsidiaries: BluVector, Deep Blue Communications, and Metrological. The biggest acquisition recently, however, is the purchase of British telecoms and media conglomerate Sky for US$39 billion at the end of 2018.


About Brand Finance GIFT™

The Brand Finance Global Intangible Finance Tracker (GIFT™) report is the world’s most extensive annual research exercise into intangible assets, considering nearly 58,000 publicly quoted companies (with a total value of over US$100 trillion) across 177 jurisdictions.

In its analysis, the Brand Finance GIFT™ 2019 report provides detailed insight into intangible value reporting by company, sector, and country. Consult the report document for graphs, additional insights, and opinion pieces by our experts.

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Konrad Jagodzinski
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Florina Cormack-Loyd
Senior Communications Manager
Brand Finance

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