Any method for ranking companies will by necessity be imperfect. But for this year's BusinessWeek ranking of Asia's top 50 companies, we have tweaked our methodology to better identify top performers, applying some of the lessons we've learned over the past 10 years.
First, we focused on two core financial measures, average return on capital and sales growth, both taken over the previous three years. For our measure of profits, we used earnings before taxes. The earnings measure also excludes distortions from nonoperating items as defined by our data provider, Standard & Poor's Compustat. We then put these profit numbers into context by figuring them as a percentage of the value of invested capital, basically long-term debt and shareholder equity. For financial companies, we calculated return on shareholder equity using pretax profits as our earnings measure, to better align our figures with the nature of the finance sector. For our measure of sales growth for nonfinancial companies, we included gains from operations and from mergers and acquisitions, as reported by Compustat. For financial companies, we used asset growth instead.
Second, we compared companies with others in their sector. (Ten sectors cover the companies in the S&P/Citigroup Pan-Asia stock index.) This break from our past practices enables us to identify companies that are good performers relative to their peers, even if their sector of the economy is not booming. This avoids the situation, for example, where oil companies jump to the top of the list when oil prices are rising and then drop off the list when oil prices are falling.
Within each sector, we ranked companies separately by our two measures—return on capital and growth—and then combined the numerical rankings, giving substantially greater weight to return on capital. The top company in each sector, according to the combined ranking, was given a 1, and the bottom company received a 0, with all the intermediate companies receiving a score according to their ranking.
A list was then constructed of all the companies we analyzed, according to their scores. We applied a tiebreaker where necessary. Finally, this list was reviewed by a panel of editors and correspondents.