Financial world dominated by a few deep pockets

Economic “superentity” controls more than one-third of global wealth

Conventional wisdom says a few sticky, fat fingers control a disproportionate slice of the world economy’s pie. A new analysis suggests that the conventional wisdom is right on the money.

Diagramming the relationships between more than 43,000 corporations reveals a tightly connected core of top economic actors. In 2007, a mere 147 companies controlled nearly 40 percent of the monetary value of all transnational corporations, researchers report in a paper published online July 28 at arXiv.org.

“This is empirical evidence of what’s been understood anecdotally for years,” says information theorist Brandy Aven of the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh.

The analysis is a first effort to document the international web of relationships among companies and to examine who owns shares — and how many — in whom. Tapping into the financial information database Orbis, scientists from ETH Zurich in Switzerland examined transnational companies, which they defined as having at least 10 percent of their holdings in more than one country. Then the team looked at upstream and downstream connections, yielding a network of 600,508 economic actors connected through more than a million ownership ties.

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