Sector by sector

Across 25 industries, we highlight the companies held in the highest esteem by their rivals.

Banking

Rank Company Score
1 Handelsbanken 84.8
2 HSBC 81.6
3 Banco Santander 80.5
4 Barclays 80
5 Lloyds Banking Group 78

A bold new winner in a storm-tossed sector

In a business beset by 'passporting' fears and regulatory troubles, our winner stands out. Decentralised 'anti-bank' Handelsbanken, where branch managers take all loan decisions and bonuses are banned, tops its sector for the first time. Former UK boss Anders Bouvin is now in Sweden running the group, and he expects 'no direct impact whatsoever' from Brexit. Q3 profits almost halved to $843m at second-placed HSBC where CEO Stuart Gulliver has said that 1,000 jobs may leave London post-Brexit. Last year's winner Santander is in third place. Its Q3 post-tax profits are down 11% to £1.07bn, a fall which the firm blames on the new 8% Bank Corporation Tax surcharge.

Building supplies

RankCompanyScore
1 Kingspan 85.5
2 Travis Perkins 83.9
3 Wolseley 83.7
4 CRH 81
5 Lafarge 79.7

Tough domestic markets but overseas opportunities beckon

With revenues for the first nine months of EUR2.27bn, Irish rigid insulation specialist Kingspan is on target for full-year profits up 30% to EUR335m. CEO Gene Murtagh and his team, committed to over EUR200m of acquisitions, are on the hunt for takeover targets in countries including Mexico, Brazil, Singapore and Indonesia.

Second-placed Travis Perkins continues to do well despite recent weaker market conditions, with H1 revenues up 5.8% to £3.1bn. In third, Wolseley posted revenues up 4.2% to £14.4bn for the year to July thanks largely to US sales. In the UK, 800 jobs are to go as part of a £100m restructure.

Chemicals

RankCompanyScore
1 Johnson Matthey 93.9
2 Victrex 88.2
3 Croda International 85.8
4 Synthomer 78.4
5 Scapa Group 77.4

Johnson Matthey's batteries, Victrex's fantastic plastic

The world's leading supplier of automotive catalytic converters, sector winner (and fifth overall) Johnson Matthey has branched out into batteries to protect its future. Chief exec Robert MacLeod expects this new division to make a profit for the first time this year. Fallout from the VW dieselgate scandal helped H1 sales and profits to rise by 5%, to £1.68bn and £219.6m respectively. In second place is Victrex, world-leader in PEEK, an engineering polymer used in everything from aircraft to oil platforms. Surfactants business Croda, comes in third. It makes ingredients for lipsticks, car paint and shampoo among others and Q3 sales rose 20% to £315.3m.

Construction - home

RankCompanyScore
1 Berkeley Group 95.1
2 Crest Nicholson Holdings 83.6
3 Taylor Wimpey 83.3
4 Barratt Developments 82.8
5 McCarthy & Stone 81.8

Berkeley brings home the bacon, Brexit fears bubble under

Another win for Tony Pidgley's Berkeley Group. The south-east based builder also come a very respectable fourth in the overall table, up one place from last year. With profits for 2016 of £531m, it's now moving into the build-to-rent sector, joining forces with the GLA to redevelop a 26-acre site in east London. Over 10 points adrift in second place comes Crest Nicholson with H1 revenues and profits both up over 20% at £408.1m and £72.6m respectively. The housebuilder has admitted receiving 'a whole stack of cancellations' the day after the referendum, but CEO Stephen Stone says that sales have recovered 'very strongly'.

Engineering and machinery

RankCompanyScore
1 Spirax-Sarco Engineering 93.6
2 Rotork 90
3 Melrose 88.5
4 Bodycote 82.6
5 Smiths Group 81.9

Slowing industrial growth and cheap oil cause friction

Steam systems and pump firm Spirax-Sarco Engineering takes the top spot. H1 pre-tax profits rose 28% to £73.4m. Last year's winner Rotork, in second, felt the pain from the battered oil and gas sector. H1 operating profits at the valve maker dropped 32.4% to £50.1m after adjustments for currency movements and acquisitions, which included the purchase of US gear maker Mastergear for $25m in April. Fresh from its £3.3bn sale of its thermal gas business Elster to Honeywell last year, third-placed turnaround firm Melrose got stuck into its next acquisition, funding a $2.8bn purchase of US manufacturer Nortek with a major rights issue.

Health and household

RankCompanyScore
1 RB 89.9
2 GlaxoSmithKline 86.84
3 Pfizer (UK) 86.83
4 AstraZeneca 85.7
5 Shire 84.7

Scandal and the sweet medicine of sliding sterling

Topping its sector should come as a welcome relief for RB. This year, the firm behind Durex and Air Wick was forced to admit it had sold harmful disinfectants in South Korea, faced accusations of overcharging for a heroin-substitute in the US and came under fire for boss Rakesh Kapoor's tidy £23m pay packet. Sales growth dropped to 2% in Q3 from 5% earlier in the year. In reported terms though, the sector had a pick-me-up in the form of cheap pounds. Second-placed GlaxoSmithKline's profits have risen 35% to £2.3bn in Q3. Pfizer, in third, will continue answering to an American HQ, after its mothership's merger with Ireland-based Allergan was scuppered.

Life assurance and insurance

RankCompanyScore
1 St. James's Place Wealth Mgt 85.2
2 Prudential 83.1
3 Admiral 81.9
4 Standard Life 81.5
5 Legal & General Group 79.8

Low rates can't keep a good sector down

This sector has been bedevilled by low interest rates, but the top performers have managed to make the best of a bad lot. In pole position is St. James's Place Wealth Management, which increased funds under management to £71bn. H1 profits at second-placed Prudential rose 9% to £2bn on the back of the expanding Asian middle class, while third-placed Admiral increased H1 revenues by 19% to £1.26bn. Jolted by lower than expected payouts of excess capital under new Solvency II rules, however, shareholders sent the stock down 15% over the summer. Standard Life, at fourth, saw profits rise 18% to £341m, due to broad-stroke diversification.

Oil, gas and extractive

RankCompanyScore
1 Royal Dutch Shell 96.3
2 BHP Billiton 85.4
3 BP 85
4 Cairn Energy 83.7
5 Rio Tinto 82.2

Royal Dutch Shell wins, fossil fuels are back in fashion again

First-placed Royal Dutch Shell completed its £35bn acquisition of BG Group and the deal does not appear to have been the over-priced disaster that some predicted. Its Q3 CCS earnings attributable to shareholders were $1.4bn compared with a loss of $6.1bn for the same quarter a year ago. Oil prices are coming back from their lows, and Shell is well positioned to capitalise on the demand for hydrocarbon fuels. BHP Billiton takes second spot despite the reputational disaster it suffered with the collapse of the Samarco dam in Brazil. The miner also announced plans to achieve gender equality by employing 50% female staff by 2025.

Retail - broadline/home

RankCompanyScore
1 Dixons Carphone 85.3
2 John Lewis Partnership 84.5
3 AO World 83.3
4 Next 83.1
5 Dunelm 79.5

Dixons Carphone is top of the shops, beating John Lewis

Mergers are notoriously difficult to get right, but so far the union of Dixons Retail and Carphone Warehouse seems to be going rather well. Dixons Carphone reported a 17% jump in underlying annual profits in June and now it's most admired in its sector, even sneaking ahead of middle England's favourite department store John Lewis. White goods retailer AO's fortunes have been in a spin, but widened losses have brought with them rapid expansion across Europe. Next slipped from first in its sector to fourth - that's one result its boss Lord Wolfson won't be able to blame on the weather. Value homewares firm Dunelm rounds out the top five.

Retail - specialist

RankCompanyScore
1 Greggs 86.2
2 Pets at Home Group 81.9
3 Poundland* 80.5
4 B&M (European Value Retail) 79.4
5 Inchcape 78.7

Greggs bakes up a win, Pets at Home scrapes second

Once infamous for its stodgy northern grub, Greggs has been busy reshaping its image as a purveyor of fine salads, soups and wraps, and clearly people have taken notice as it tops its sector for 2016 after a long run of sales growth. Its latest wheeze? Sourdough pasties - one for the Cornish hipsters among us. There's a new top dog at second-placed Pets at Home, which appointed its long-serving finance chief Ian Kellett (the proud owner of a Weimaraner and a Viszla) as CEO this year. Poundland, in third, was snapped up by South Africa's Steinhoff after the outcome of the EU referendum forced down the value of the pound.

Speciality and other finance

RankCompanyScore
1 Hargreaves Lansdown 87.4
2 London Stock Exchange 82.7
3 Provident Financial 81.5
4 Schroders 80.42
5 IG Group 80.4

Hargreaves Lansdown wins in a volatile year for the markets

It's been a bumpy time for the financial markets. In January, a marked slowdown in the Chinese economy caused a commodities rout and a plunge in equities - leading some to ask if we were on the edge of another economic precipice. But since June's EU vote, the FTSE 100 has been in counter-intuitively good health as the value of the pound has collapsed. Brexit-backer Peter Hargreaves has another reason to be happy as the asset management firm he co-founded, Hargreaves Lansdown, tops its sector ahead of the London Stock Exchange, which is set to merge with Germany's Deutsche Borse. Sub-prime lender Provident Financial comes third.

Transport

RankCompanyScore
1 easyJet 87.4
2 International Airlines Group 83.5
3 Ryanair 82.5
4 National Express 77.8
5 Stagecoach 76.7

Planes not trains take the honours

Airlines outdo buses and trains. The first three positions are easyJet, International Airlines Group and Ryanair. But Brexit and a diving pound has sent a shiver through the industry. EasyJet wins despite enduring air traffic and terrorist disruption. Full-year profits fell 28% to £495m, but its boss Carolyn McCall is again voted Britain's Most Admired Leader. British Airways' (part of IAG) boss Alex Cruz has said he will divert resources elsewhere if expected to foot the cost of the bill for Heathrow's third runway. Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary wants three new runways - one each at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted.

Beverages

RankCompanyScore
1 Diageo 88.4
2 Fever-Tree 84.1
3 SABMiller* 81.5
4 Britvic 79.6
5 Coca-Cola Enterprises 78.9

Diageo on top, SABMiller and AB InBev conclude megabrew deal

Former double overall Britain's Most Admired Company winner Diageo is back on top of its sector this year. Boss Ivan Menezes - who took over back in 2013 - is gaining momentum at last, with 2017 growth priorities of Scotch whisky, the Indian market and US spirits all set to be given a helping hand by the weak pound. An effervescent performance from BMAC first-timer Fever-Tree, whose upmarket mixers have helped shares to rise 645% since it floated on AIM two years ago. SABMiller, in third, has just completed the will-they-won't-they £79bn mega-merger with seventh placed AB InBev, the world's largest ever deal in a consumer industry.

Business support services

RankCompanyScore
1 Experian 90.2
2 Rentokil Initial 86.9
3 Intertek 85.9
4 Bunzl 82.3
5 Capita 81.9

Experian's credit is good, Brexit bonus for Rentokil

A sector win and 10th place overall for credit-check specialist Experian. The boom in online retailing helped profits for the six months to September rise 14% to $520m, on revenues steady at $2.23bn. The firm uses big data techniques to help credit card companies, banks and retailers minimise fraud and bad debts. It employs 2,700 in Nottingham, where it was founded, although its HQ is now in Dublin. In second place, Surrey-based Rentokil Initial derives 90% of its income from outside the UK and expects to receive a Brexit boost thanks to the weak pound. It's also won several mosquito control contracts as a result of the Zika virus scare.

Construction - heavy

RankCompanyScore
1 Kier Group 84.2
2 Costain Group 82.3
3 Morgan Sindall Group 77.9
4 Laing O'Rourke 77.5
5 Galliford Try 77.4

Rivals vie to benefit from jump in infrastructure spending

A win for Bedford-based Kier Group, despite posting a £15m loss in 2016 as a result of one-off costs relating to restructuring and its £265m takeover of highways-specialist Mouchel last year. The deal should put Kier in a strong position to benefit from more roadbuilding and upcoming big projects including Hinkley Point and HS2. Engineering specialist Costain has just won the £120m contract for a new station at Gatwick Airport, and is also pioneering ways in which electric cars can feed power back into the grid while charging. Construction outfit Morgan Sindall in third has an order book of £3.1bn and steady H1 revenues of £1.15bn.

Engineering - aero and defence

RankCompanyScore
1 GKN 81.5
2 Rolls-Royce 80
3 Ultra Electronics 78.7
4 BAE Systems 74.4
5 Senior 73.7

A turbulent time in aerospace and fall in sterling clouds skies

Both sector-leader GKN and the firm it finally displaced from the top spot, Rolls-Royce, advocated staying in the EU. Share prices have been buoyant for both since the Brexit vote, as befits exporters that report in pounds, but it could be the calm before the storm. Lost contracts forced GKN to slash hundreds of jobs in Yeovil and Telford, while the disposal of its Stromag business for EUR184m in October only partly alleviated its gnawing pensions deficit. At Rolls, cost-cutting CEO Warren East's turnaround plan has been overshadowed by a £2.2bn hit to its currency hedges. In third place is underwater specialist Ultra Electronics.

Food producers and processors

RankCompanyScore
1 Unilever 96.4
2 Kerry Group 89.1
3 Glanbia 87.1
4 Associated British Foods 84.3
5 Greencore Group 82

Currency issues and deflation lead to mixed results

Last year's Most Admired Company Unilever still packs a serious punch, winning its sector and coming in second overall this year. The FMCG polymath had underlying sales growth of 4.2% during the first nine months of the year to EUR39.7bn, driven by emerging markets but unsullied by an unseemly spat with Tesco over Brexit-related price increases. Food and ingredients business Kerry Group came in second, despite net profits falling 6.5% in the first half to EUR222m, in part because of price deflation in Europe. Earnings at fellow Irish dairy queen Glanbia, in third place, rose 13.7% to EUR157.4m, led by its performance nutrition division.

Leisure and hotels

RankCompanyScore
1 InterContinental Hotels Group 91.7
2 Merlin Entertainments 89.3
3 Whitbread 87.8
4 TUI Group 84.3
5 Carnival 83.3

Relentless expansion but rising costs

Scale is key in the hotel business, so it's not surprising to see sector-leader IHG expanding at pace, particularly in the US and China. The firm, which also came first in its Use of Corporate Assets, increased room numbers by 3.8% in Q3 to 754,000 - with 230,000 in the pipeline. All this should help underlying growth, but so far that's been mitigated by the strong dollar. Merlin Entertainments, in second, rose from 120th to 13th overall, despite - or because of - the aftermath of its 2015 Smiler rollercoaster crash. Third-placed Whitbread is trying to grow its Premier Inn and Costa brands, despite a hit from coffee prices and the National Living Wage.

Media

RankCompanyScore
1 RELX Group 87.8
2 Rightmove 85.9
3 Sky 85.3
4 WPP 83.7
5 ITV 78

B2B publisher defies all the disrupters

RELX Group (formerly Reed Elsevier) has quietly worked its way to the top of media. The publisher of academic journals plus databases and analytic tools has largely turned its back on print. Since 2012, it has tripled its market capitalisation to around £30bn. More than 50% of business is subscription-based and it also earns more than half its revenues in the US - very good news since the pound's slide. Runner-up Rightmove has maintained its dominant position in the property portal market with 40% more properties advertised than any other UK site. In third place is Sky, working hard bedding down its German and Italian businesses.

Property

RankCompanyScore
1 Great Portland Estates 87.3
2 Workspace Group 85.9
3 Derwent London 84.14
4 Shaftesbury 84.13
5 Land Securities 82.1

Caution is the order of the day in uncertain conditions

The prime London commercial property market was one of the worst hit in the post-Brexit turmoil with share prices plunging. And yet the top three places in this sector are taken by specialists who concentrate almost exclusively on the UK capital. Derwent London is displaced at the top by its closest competitor Great Portland Estates. GPE boss Toby Courtauld is preparing the group for a dip in the commercial property market, selling £293m of assets this year and cutting its LTV to a modest 16%. Second place went to Workspace Group, formed from the privatisation of the former GLC's property assets.

Restaurants and pubs

RankCompanyScore
1 McDonald's Restaurants UK 90.5
2 Domino's Pizza (UK) 80.5
3 SSP Group 73.6
4 Greene King 72.9
5 JD Wetherspoon 71.6

McDonald's bags the McTop Spot, followed by Domino's Pizza

McDonald's in the US has been in dire straits of late as health-conscious and well-heeled millennials have started to go elsewhere for their fast food fix. But its British arm remains a saving grace. It's back in the top spot this year with a barnstorming 90.5 points - despite the loss of its renowned boss Jill McDonald, who now runs Halfords. Despite a run of good results, last year's winner Domino's Pizza delivered a distant second ahead of train station and airport restaurants operator SSP. Pub chain Greene King stormed up the list to fourth followed by fellow boozer JD Wetherspoon. Fast-growing upstart Just Eat narrowly missed out on the top five.

Retail - food and personal

RankCompanyScore
1 Aldi (UK) 87.3
2 Lidl (UK) 81.9
3 Tesco 80.9
4 J Sainsbury 76.6
5 Wallgreens Boots Alliance 76.1

Discounters remain on top, but Tesco ups its game

No prizes for guessing who wins the category of most admired grocery company, yet again. After another difficult year for the 'big four', fast-growing German discounters Aldi and Lidl take the top two places as they continue on their quest to entice middle England through their doors. Tesco isn't taking the challenge lying down, though, and is back in third this year after falling out of the top five entirely two years ago. It's an impressive return after its devastating accounting scandal; how will November's cyberattack on its bank go down? Fellow giant Sainsbury's, now the proud owner of Argos, follows in fourth.

Software and computer services

RankCompanyScore
1 ARM* 98.4
2 Halma 92.5
3 Sage Group 85.6
4 AVEVA Group 83
5 Sophos Group 82.3

The Japanese get a bargain with ARM, Halma's record dividends

ARM is the clear category winner and also takes the overall gong for Most Admired Company. A good buy for the Japanese. In second is Halma the low-profile safety, health and environmental technology group based in Amersham, Buckinghamshire, which is the UK's largest manufacturer of smoke detectors. Halma posted turnover of £807.8m for the year to April 2016 and pre-tax profits grew by 8% to £166m. Its total dividend was hiked by 7% which made it Halma's record-breaking 37th consecutive year of dividend per share increases of 5% or more. Third was fast-growing SME accounts specialist Sage Group.

Telecoms

RankCompanyScore
1 BT Group 78
2 Telefónica (UK) 74.7
3 Vodafone 74.1
4 Telecom Plus 68.1
5 Inmarsat 65

BT triumphs over Telefonica, Vodafone stays in the top three

BT faces a regular storm of criticism from its competitors over its management of Openreach, the division that operates and maintains much of the country's broadband infrastructure. But its peers clearly still respect the former state monopoly, which tops its sector. Next up is Telefonica (UK), holding company of O2, whose fate is still uncertain after European officials blocked its acquisition by Hong Kong's CK Hutchison. Third-placed Vodafone topped the total rankings in the new criteria of corporate governance. Relative minnow Telecom Plus sneaks into fourth ahead of satellite operator Inmarsat, which is rolling out high-speed Wi-Fi for airline passengers.

Utilities

RankCompanyScore
1 Severn Trent 82.5
2 National Grid 82
3 SSE 79.7
4 Pennon Group 78
5 Centrica 71.8

Severn Trent satisfies, keeping the home fires burning

Once the bad boy of the sector following a grim falsification of customer data in the noughties, under its newish female CEO Liv Garfield, Severn Trent is now keeping Ofwat happy. It claims to have the lowest water and sewage bills in Britain and complaints are down 28% year on year. Full-year profits rose 4.4% to £313.6m and it expected to make £670m in efficiency savings by 2020. Although the UK experienced its first day without any coal-fired electricity production for 134 years last April, National Grid, in second, has had to award contracts worth £122m to keep coal and gas-fired power stations on standby to prevent blackouts this winter.