Nieuws Limburg Largest companies reflect on a banner year

Largest companies reflect on a banner year

Largest companies reflect on a banner year

With strong sales growth of 14.5% and with 6% more people employed than the previous year, 2021 was a boom year for the 500 largest companies in our province. This is revealed by the annual analysis of the VKW Top 500. “But in 2022, unfortunately, the reality has completely changed with a war on our continent, uncertain supply of raw materials and the energy crisis,” says VKW Limburg.

Marc Meylaers, chair of VKW Limburg, explains the findings: “As for 2021, we can be quite brief. It was a particularly good year for our businesses. Returns, which were downright poor a year earlier, were again very healthy in 2021. Which is just as well. This gave oxygen to the businesses and we see this clearly in investment behaviour and additional hiring. But 2022 has unfortunately brought a lot of new and unfavourable twists and turns. With a war in Ukraine, supply-chain problems and uncertain gas supplies alongside an ever tighter labour market, we are facing spectacular market price increases. Therefore, companies now need to raise their sails on the revenue and cost side in order to hopefully stay on a healthy course. Because margins are shooting in the wrong direction. That said, we can only be happy then that 2021 provided some additional buffer for the turbulent period we are now in.”

Back to the numbers: Limburg’s Top 500 companies recorded a total turnover of over 39 billion euros in 2021, a whopping 14.5% higher than in 2020. “But that did not make up for the 2020 loss,” says analyst Max Van Der Linden. The industry recorded almost 19% revenue growth in 2021. The industry accounts for 45.8% of total Top 500 sales. The services sector leapfrogged over the trade sector with nearly 20% sales growth, taking second place.

“This is a major problem”
Exports generally grew strongly (+24.2% growth) and, with a total of EUR 16.84 billion, also regained their share of total turnover (45.3%). Employment also grew by 6% in 2021. But things were already creaking and groaning as labour market tightness became a major problem for all sectors by 2021. The service sector led the way in terms of employment growth (+9.1%) and the trade sector was the only sector to see a slight decline in employment. Businesses continued to hire as much as they could, but it could easily have been so much more… At the end of 2021, the Top 500 businesses clocked up a total of 109,390 employees, which is 35.3% of total paid employment in the province of Limburg.

Profits doubled
Overall, earnings for 2021 were very positive. The average net profits actually doubled. Manufacturing and trade in particular saw their profits multiply over 2020. By a factor of three for industry, by a factor of two for trade. These were also the sectors where returns suffered the worst in 2020 (-54% and -41% respectively) when we faced the coronavirus pandemic. But this was thus more than made up for in 2021. Only 51 of the Top 500 businesses made a loss in 2021 (71 in 2020). This is the lowest number since 2008, which may attest to an overall very good year in terms of returns.

“Overall, we can consider 2021 as a good year between the two crises,” says current chairman Meylaers. “A strong resurgence after the 2020 coronavirus impact, which was clearly more than just a catch-up. And which fortunately provided some extra buffer for what the companies faced in 2022.”

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