Posted on Tuesday 20 August 2019 by Ulster Business


Risk management consultant Jonathan Cushley breaks down the key numbers and metrics, in conjunction with Dun & Bradstreet, in the Ulster Business Top 100 Northern Ireland Companies 2019 and discovers some interesting trends and success stories

The latest Ulster Business Top 100 Northern Ireland Companies list shows that the largest and leading businesses here saw sales rise by 9.4% in the last year – rising to £24.8bn of combined turnover.

Now in its 31st year, the region’s longest established listing of company performance provides insight on the accomplishments of Northern Ireland based companies, either Northern Ireland registered or where a significant proportion of their business is transacted in the province.

The 2019 edition of the Top 100 incorporates analysis of figures filed at each companies year end and posted at Companies House and primarily relate to financial periods ending in late 2017, 2018 and 2019.


Sales have grown to £24.8bn from £22.6bn (year-on-year comparison) which is a growth of 9.4%. While extremely encouraging this result needs to be tempered with the fact that profits for the top companies decreased by nearly 15% to £894.7m. Shareholder value for the Top 100 companies increased by 11.8%.


Sales revenue is the income received by a company from its sales of goods or the provision of services.

The performance of the Top 100 showing a 9.4% sales growth to £24.8bn is exceptional in what is a difficult trading environment and period of uncertainty for the provinces businesses. The Brexit question came to the fore on June 23, 2016 so all the financial figures shown in the listing have come post the referendum and in essence since the suspension of the Assembly in January 2017.

Moy Park continues to hold sway with the highest turnover, currently £1.5bn, up from £1.4bn previously – snapping close at their heels is W&R Barnett Ltd (£1.23bn up from £1.11bn). Next in the listing are a number of high fliers, LCC Group Ltd and John Graham Holdings Ltd.

John Graham Holdings Ltd, which trades as Graham, is another privately owned company based in Hillsborough and specialising in building and civil engineering projects – Graham posted annual sales of £767.6m in its latest financial accounts up from £565.9m – an increase of some 35.6% year on year.

One of the perennial high performers of the Top 100 showed a significant decrease in sales dropping it from a position last year of 24 to a position this year of 54. Fane Valley Co-Operative‘s sales decreased from £314m to £135.8m – this is a result of their change in ownership of Linden Foods. Linden Foods is now a joint venture and has entered the list at number 40 with sales of £206.7m.

Another indicator of strong performance within the listing is that turnover figure required to gain access to the Ulster Business Top 100 is at its highest ever, with Heron Bros Ltd posting year end sales results for 28/02/18 of £74.6m. Last year’s number 100 was Cranswick Country Foods (Ballymena) with sales of £63.9m. This represents a rise in sales required of 16.7%, to make the Top 100.

Cranswick Country Foods (Ballymena) has risen to 80 in the listing posting impressive sales growth of 45%.


Since the Ulster Business Top 100’s inception in 1988, we have identified the top companies by measuring turnover, while also accepting that both profitability and tangible shareholder value are also key measures of performance.

This year has seen a drop in profit margin for the Top 100 companies from a margin of 4.6% to 3.6% with total profits now sitting at £894.7m compared to £1.05bn for the corresponding companies in their prior year.

Northern Ireland Water Ltd has retained its position as the most profitable business within the listing, posting pre tax profits of £94.5m on a turnover of £431.7m a margin of 21.9%. Northern Ireland Electricity Networks Ltd is second most profitable with pre tax figures of £68m against a turnover of £275.8m (24.7%).

While the reduction in profitability of the Top 100 is disappointing this can be tempered by the fact that a number of the companies made significant losses during the last filed figures recorded for the compilation of the listing. Short Bros PLC after currency adjustments filed losses of £39.2m, Caterpillar (NI) Ltd posted losses of £20.9m, Northern Ireland Transport Holding Company (the parent of Northern Ireland Railways, Ulsterbus and Metro (formerly Citybus)) filed losses of £13.3m, EP Kilroot Power losses of £92m and Dunnes Stores Bangor Ltd losses of £23m.

The level of losses across the Top 100 listing is unprecedented with the 12 companies that posted losses amounting to £213.4m.

Tangible net worth

Tangible net worth is most commonly a calculation of the net worth of a company that excludes any value derived from intangible assets such as copyrights, patents, goodwill and intellectual property. Tangible net worth is a simple calculation of a company’s total tangible assets minus the company’s total liabilities.

A business’s tangible net worth provides a snapshot of your financial situation at this point in time.

The current tangible net worth of the Ulster Business Top 100 currently sits at £7.4bn – as the Top 100 listing is fluid with companies entering and leaving the list any comparison with previous listing can be distorted, however compared to the 2018 listing tangible net worth has increased by £800m.

Six of the companies within the Top 100 have liabilities that outweigh their assets.

Increasing the tangible net worth/shareholder value is of prime importance for the management of a company. So the management must have the interests of shareholders in mind while making decisions.

The higher the shareholder value, the better it is for the company and management.

The shareholders return for the Ulster Business Top 100 equates to profit/tangible net worth and as a percentage sits at 12%

The sales to equity ratio defined as turnover/tangible net worth provides an indicator of how much money are generated by the business with each pound invested, for the current Top 100 this amounts to 3.34.


A total of 85,774 people are employed by Northern Ireland’s Top 100 Companies, a decrease from 91,600 employed by the companies in the 2018 listing.

Moy Park Ltd (8,473), Almac Group (4,798), Short Brothers PLC (4,071), Queen’s University (3,949), and Northern Ireland Transport Holding Company (3,821) make up the top five employers within the listing.

Each employee within the Top 100 accounted for £288,650 turnover – sales/employee and accounted for £10,432 profit – profit/employee.


Since the inception of the Top 100 we have periodically looked at the geographic location of the companies within Northern Ireland – historically the east of the province has held sway over the west – however, we are beginning to see a shift with currently 63 businesses based in Belfast, Co Antrim and Co Down, with Co Tyrone being a major recipient of Top 100 activity.

Breaking down the sectors

As would be expected when looking at the line of business/activity of the Top 100, both the wholesale/retail and manufacturing sectors dominate, accounting for some 68 of the companies.


A date of the June 24, 2019 has been used as the cut-off for the filing of accounts for the inclusion in this year’s Ulster Business Top 100.

The listing has been compiled by using a combination of data sourced from both Dun & Bradstreet’s information database and Companies House.



1. Short Brothers files in dollars, while KN Networks Ltd and Lakeland Dairies Ltd files in euros. To allow for fair comparison their financial results have been amended to reflect the currency value at their financial year-end.

2. Isaac Agnew Ltd and Agnew Commercials Ltd have differing parent companies and are treated separately.

3. James E McCabe Ltd & Philip Russell Ltd are both owned by Golf Holdings Ltd, a company registered in Northern Ireland. Golf Holdings Ltd does not file a consolidated turnover figure.

4. Musgrave Retail Partners Ltd and Musgrave Distribution Ltd are both subsidiaries of Musgrave Investments Ltd, a company registered in Northern Ireland. Musgrave Investments Ltd does not file a consolidated turnover figure. Ultimate ownership resides with Musgrave Group Ltd, a company registered in the Republic of Ireland.

5. Both Dunbia Ltd and CIMC Vehicles UK Ltd have both filed accounts for a nine month fiscal period, no adjustments have been made. EP Kilroot Ltd and EP Ballylumford Ltd are separate legal entities, on 12/06/19 EP UK Investments Ltd, a UK registered company was listed as “a person of significant control” for both businesses.

6. Charts and comparisons made within the Top 100 for benchmarking purposes can due to the fluid nature of the listing include results for companies which no longer appear.


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