Sector by sector

Across 24 industries, we highlight the companies held in the highest esteem by their rivals.

Banking

Rank Company Score
1 Lloyds Banking Group 78.6
2 Banco Santander 75.9
3 HSBC 75.0
4 Handelsbanken 74.8
5 Barclays 74.4

Lloyds wins, as it returns to full private ownership after HMG sale

With profits for the first nine months up 38% to £4.5bn, Lloyds takes the top spot, winning plaudits for returning to full private ownership – the government sold its remaining stake in May. Chief exec António Horta-Osório believes that HMG made £500m on its investment. The vexed question of independence for its Catalan home region doesn’t stop Santander taking second place – the popular mortgage lender ironically stands to benefit substantially from a £425m banking competition fund set up by rival RBS. Last year’s winner HSBC is down to third – veteran boss Stuart Gulliver exits in February, replaced by John Flint.

Business support services

Rank Company Score
1 Rentokil Initial 85.0
2 Bunzl 84.9
3 Ashtead Group 83.3
4 Intertek 80.7
5 IWG* 79.6

Rentokil gets the basics right and Bunzl's 11 M&As bump it up

Thanks to Rentokil Initial’s back to basics focus on pest control and hygiene, there were no flies on the FTSE 250 firm’s H1 results: ongoing revenues up 28% to £1.06bn and ongoing profits up 29% to £122.1m. Second-placed Bunzl announced no fewer than 11 acquisitions in the first half of the year, including distribution business DDS in the US, and also maintained its 24-year record of dividend growth. Industrial plant outfit Ashtead rents earth movers, pumps and heating equipment: 2017 profits were given a boost by the weak pound, up 8% to £765m. Quality testing group Intertek received a similar sterling lift, with H1 revenues up 13.9% to £1.37bn.

Construction - heavy

RankCompanyScore
1 Costain Group 86.2
2 Willmott Dixon 78.3
3 Keller Group 78.2
3 Kier Group 78.2
5 Galliford Try 76.7

Costain trains for the win and Willmott Dixon renews campuses

Costain trains for the win and Willmott Dixon renews campuses As Network Rail’s favourite contractor to the tune of £540m, Costain may be smaller than some rivals but tops its sector after a solid first half in which operating profits rose 34.4% to £21.1m and revenues made £875m. With a £3.7bn order book, the infrastructure specialist looks set for a good 2018. Second placed Willmott Dixon is an industrial contractor which also builds residential developments both for sale and for the growing private rental sector. It’s just won £60m of deals to revamp three university campuses in the Midlands. In joint third place are ground engineering specialist Keller, and Kier – the UK’s fourth largest construction group.

Engineering and machinery

Rank Company Score
1 Spirax-Sarco Engineering 93.6
2 Rotork 90.7
3 Smiths Group 84.6
4 IMI 84.4
5 Hill & Smith Holdings 82.2

Full steam ahead for Spirax-Sarco Engineering, Rotork loses CEO

Business is booming at steam specialist Spirax-Sarco Engineering, whose H1 profits jumped a Brexit-beating 30% to £99.2m, on revenues up 25% to £428.6m. The group also made two strategic acquisitions – German boiler controls outfit Gestra and US temperature controls group Chromalox. A strong second for valves specialist Rotork, despite a share price blip back in July caused by the abrupt departure of veteran CEO Peter France. It also jointly takes the criteria award for Quality of Goods & Services. The weak pound plus demand for X-ray security scanners saw Smiths Group report operating profits up 16% to £589m for FY 2017.

Gaming

RankCompanyScore
1 Bet365 92.4
2 888 Holdings 85.0
3 Paddy Power Betfair 84.3
4 GVC Holdings 78.5
5 Ladbrokes Coral 71.8

All bets are off as Bet365 scoops first place from big ticket rivals

A win for Bet365, the Stoke-on- Trent bookie which disproves the ‘rule’ that analogue businesses can’t succeed at digital: boss Denise Coates took her father’s chain of betting shops and turned it into the UK’s biggest online gambling outfit, making profits of £514m on revenues of £2bn in 2017. Rumours abound that second-placed poker favourite 888 Holdings may be subject to a takeover bid after the Shaked family sold its entire stake for $146m in October. Former winner ‘BettyPower’ comes in third, proof that big ticket mergers take years to bed down. The long anticipated merger between GVC and Ladbrokes looks set to take place by the end of the year.

Leisure and hotels

RankCompanyScore
1 InterContinental Hotels Group 87.4
2 Whitbread 86.4
3 Virgin Atlantic 84.6
4 Merlin Entertainments 82.2
5 Millennium & Copthorne 80.7

IHG opts for more digital, while Premier Inn bolsters Whitbread

IHG operates more than 5,100 hotels across nearly 100 countries, and new CEO Keith Barr – who took over in July – is on a mission to revamp the group’s technology platforms to improve the customer experience. A strong showing from budget hotel brand Premier Inn – advertised by Lenny Henry – helped Whitbread offset a flat performance by coffee chain Costa: group pre-tax profits rose a fifth to £316m in the first half of the year. A deal to sell 31% of Virgin Atlantic to Air France-KLM announced in July leaves the Virgin Group holding only 20% of its flagship operation. Merlin plans to open a £265m Legoland theme park in New York in 2020.

Media

RankCompanyScore
1 Rightmove 91.3
2 RELX Group 88.3
3 Sky 84.2
4 ITV 79.1
5 WPP 78.3

Rightmove makes it to number one and RELX learns reinvention

The UK’s largest property portal, Rightmove is a veteran in the digital world, founded way back in 2000. But with record numbers of agents listing on the site and H1 profits up 9% to £87.5m on revenues up 11% to £120m, it’s still going strong. Second place goes to RELX (Reed Elsevier that was). An old-school publisher reinvented as an infomatics business, RELX shows how digital transformation should be done. Having had the green light from Ofcom, Rupert Murdoch’s controversial £11.7bn takeover bid for Sky only has to clear the CMA media plurality test. ITV starts a new era in January next year when 2016’s Most Admired Leader Carolyn McCall begins as CEO.

Property

RankCompanyScore
1 Great Portland Estates 92.1
2 Derwent London 90.5
3 Workspace Group 87.2
4 Land Securities 87.0
5 Shaftesbury 83.8

Great Portland capitalises on rents with rival Derwent up close

With a big hand in redeveloping chunks of London’s West End – tenants include Facebook and Boston Consulting Group – Great Portland Estates is enjoying a purple patch, with its rent roll hitting an all-time high of £119m so far this year. But there are signs of a slowdown – boss Toby Courtauld admits that sweeteners are increasingly required to get new leases signed. Arch rival Derwent is close behind – with over 70% of its 5.6 million sq ft portfolio within 700m of a Crossrail station, it is set to benefit when the Elizabeth Line opens next December. Third is Workspace Group – joining one of its hip co-working offices is top of every tech start-ups to-do list.

Retail - broadline/home

RankCompanyScore
1 Next 86.4
2 John Lewis Partnership 85.6
3 Marks & Spencer 82.5
4 B&M (European Value Retail) 81.1
5 Dunelm 80.7

Next bests John Lewis on the troubled British high street

Under leadership of low-profile, high-performance boss Simon Wolfson, the fashion chain Next has managed to keep Brexit-related price rises well below the 5% predicted thanks to sourcing in China. Even JLPs famously resilient employee-ownership model couldn’t save it from strife: profits halved on Brexit uncertainty and weaker demand, especially at posh supermarket Waitrose. Even middle-England’s purse strings are tightening. Under new boss Steve Rowe, M&S has its best BMAC showing in years, but with sales flat and profits down 5% in the first half, new chairman Archie Norman has pledged a radical shake-up of the ‘drifting’ store group.

Retail - specialist

RankCompanyScore
1 Saga 84.8
2 Greggs 84.4
3 AA 81.8
4 Inchcape 78.4
5 Pets at Home Group 74.8

Saga sees off Greggs but searches for a new chairman

Over 50s favourite Saga sneaks into the top spot thanks to its success at cornering the burgeoning SKI market – Spending the Kids’ Inheritance, that is. Pre-tax profits for the first half of the year rose 5.5% to £110.2m and it is launching a new upmarket holiday arm, Saga Possibilities, aimed at enticing a younger crowd. Veteran chairman Andrew Goodsell will retire next year. Less than half a point behind is pasty king Greggs, which has added porridge pots and salads to its offering. Boss Roger Whiteside has plans to break the 2,000 store mark. A boardroom breakdown at AA resulted in the firm demanding ousted chairman Bob Mackenzie repay a £1.2m bonus.

Speciality and other finance

RankCompanyScore
1 Hargreaves Lansdown 89.6
2 London Stock Exchange 81.4
3 Schroders 80.9
4 3i 73.8
5 Close Brothers Group 73.5

Supermarket fund sweep for HL and LSE holds strong for now

Popular online funds supermarket Hargreaves Lansdown continues to prosper despite rising competition from fintech rivals. The FTSE 100 broker signed up 30,000 new customers in Q1 2018, taking it to just shy of one million active punters. Total funds stand at £82bn and revenues for the year to date were up 15% to £104.1m. Long serving LSE chief exec – and vocal Brexit critic – Xavier Rolet is to stand down next year. Under his tenure the LSE has transformed from an equity exchange into a global leader in clearing, despite the failure of the merger with Deutsche Boerse. Assets at Schroders rose £34bn in Q3, to reach a record high of £419.6bn.

Transport

RankCompanyScore
1 easyJet 85.2
2 National Express 79.6
3 Ryanair 77.4
4 Wizz Air Holdings 74.3
5 International Airlines Group 73.5

Another impressive win for not-quite-no-frills airline easyJet

Despite the loss of well-regarded CEO Carolyn McCall to ITV next year, easyJet is bolstering its post-Brexit options with a €40m deal for part of bankrupt German carrier Air Berlin’s operations at Tegel airport. Having sold its last rail franchise, C2C, to Trenitalia last year, National Express is now an 80% international business. UK trading in Q3 was good, with bus profits up £1m year-on-year. The cancellation of 20,000 flights because of pilot rota problems could cost Ryanair €50m but it hasn’t done the firm’s performance much damage. After a strong Q3, outspoken boss Michael O’Leary reckons it’s on track for record annual profits of €1.4bn.

Beverages

Rank Company Score
1 Diageo 91.2
2 Fever-Tree 89.0
3 Coca-Cola Enterprises* 86.8
4 AB InBev (UK) 84.0
5 Britvic 80.8

Diageo is first to the bar, but Fever-Tree fizzes strongly

A ban on roadside alcohol sales in India coupled with a Chinese crackdown on ‘gifting’ to bureaucrats knocked first-half performance for booze behemoth Diageo, but boss Ivan Menezes expects a strong second half. After missing out on a £1m plus LTIP bonus this year, he is committed to boost operating margins by 75% by 2019. Mighty mixers minnow Fever-Tree – which employs under 50 to Diageo’s 33,000 – is only a couple of points behind, riding the gin and tonic boom with revenue expected to hit £150m this year. AB InBev is the top scoring brewer and recently launched its hipster tipple, Old Blue Last, with Shoreditch's Vice Media.

Chemicals

RankCompanyScore
1 Croda International 88.2
2 Johnson Matthey 85.8
3 BASF (UK) 84.8
4 Victrex 79.6
5 Synthomer 77.7

Croda slides into the top spot as Johnson Matthey eyes electrics

Another sector win for Goolebased surfactant specialist Croda, whose slippery products are used in a bewildering array of industries from printing and water treatment to cleaning and electronics. Firsthalf sales were up 16.2% to £707.3m and adjusted pre-tax profit up 14.3% to £169.7m. Runner-up Johnson Matthey – the world’s largest maker of automotive catalytic converters – has dodged the dieselgate fallout thanks to a well-received £200m investment in next generation battery tech for EVs. Chemical giant BASF has nine sites and more than 1,400 employees in the UK. Its German parent has just paid €5.9bn for archrival Bayer’s pesticides business.

Construction - home

RankCompanyScore
1 Berkeley Group 96.7
2 Barratt Developments 85.6
3 Taylor Wimpey 84.6
4 Redrow  84.4
5 Bellway 83.7

Another win for long-time sector superstar Berkeley Group

The high-end housebuilder finishes a clear 11 points ahead and remains on track, says its board, to deliver £3bn of pre-tax profit in the five years to 2021. Although the sale of £26.8m of shares by chairman Tony Pidgley in September prompted speculation that he may believe that the market has peaked. FY profits at runner-up Barratt Developments rose 12.1% to £765.1m on revenues up 9.8% to £4.65bn – it has just hired Ofcom chief Sharon White as a NED. Taylor Wimpey boss Pete Redfern sold £1.5m in shares in October – as did Redrow founder Steve Morgan, who shifted a whopping £153m of stock shortly after opting to become a non-exec chairman.

Food producers and processors

Rank Company Score
1 Unilever 99.3
2 Kerry Group 87.2
3 Associated British Foods 86.1
4 Greencore Group 83.1
5 Glanbia 80.8

Overall winner Unilever stands up tall with its trio of wins

A massive 12 points ahead of second-placed Kerry Group, Unilever is winner for the third time of Britain’s Most Admired Company. It may have been a tough year for the Marmite to Persil CPG big beast, but having successfully fought off the $143bn hostile Kraft Heinz takeover bid it’s reputation among its peers stands higher than ever. It has also won the criteria awards for Quality of Marketing, and Community and Environmental Responsibility. Cheap and cheerful fashion chain Primark is still accounting for some 50% of diverse ABF’s £1.3bn profit. Clucked-up chicken business 2 Sisters Food Group brings up the rear in this sector.

Health and household

RankCompanyScore
1 GlaxoSmithKline 87.9
2 AstraZeneca 87.3
3 RB 86.7
4 Shire 86.0
5 Smith & Nephew 78.0

Less than one point sees GSK edge AstraZeneca for top spot

Between them the pair account for more than half of the UK’s total R&D spend. New boss Emma Walmsley has warned that Brexit will hit GSK’s costs this year. She also plans to expand GSK’s consumer healthcare activity and has apparently drawn up a shopping list, which includes big ticket buys from Pfizer in the US and Merck in Germany. AZ CEO Pascal Soriot is sticking to his strategy of seeking breakthrough new drugs, such as promising lung cancer treatment Tagrisso. Six consecutive quarters of weak growth at RB has left boss Rakesh Kapoor facing investor angst and pondering splitting the £45bn market cap firm in two – RB Health and RB Hygiene and Home.

Life assurance and insurance

RankCompanyScore
1 Prudential 90.5
2 Hiscox 89.7
3 St. James's Place Wealth Mgt 85.7
4 Legal & General Group 84.6
5 Direct Line Group 78.7

First place for the Pru with Hiscox weathering two hurricanes

The Prudential's growth in Asia plus plans to combine its M&G asset management arm with its European insurance business have led to speculation that a major demerger could be in the offing at the Pru. Second-placed Hiscox estimates that claims arising from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma will cost it £170m, but despite the hit, Hiscox’s shares are booming, up 27% since the start of the year: no disaster, that. Net inflows for Q3 at wealth manager St James’s Place are up 42% to £2.4bn year-on-year. Pre-tax profits for the first half of the year at Legal & General are up 41% to £1.16bn and CEO Nigel Wilson also takes the Most Admired Leader award.

Oil, gas and extractive

RankCompanyScore
1 Royal Dutch Shell 91.0
2 BP 86.0
3 Rio Tinto 82.7
4 BHP Billiton 82.6
5 Wood Group 79.3

Shell on top by lower operating costs, BP seeks a new chairman

A vote of confidence in Shell boss Ben van Beurden’s long-term strategy as the oil giant comes to pin its sector and eighth overall.Capex and operational savings of$30bn have boosted margins ahead of the continuing low price of oil,although its modest $1bn a year investment in alternative energy has raised a few eyebrows. BP’s rocksteady chairman Carl Henrik Svanberg – who piloted the firm through Deepwater Horizon – is set to step down next year. The firm’s Q2 profits fell 5%year-on-year to $684m because of the costs of a scrapped project in Angola. RioTinto is bullish about iron ore again, expecting to up its Australia output to 400 million tonnes a year.

Restaurants and pubs

RankCompanyScore
1 JD Wetherspoon 80.8
2 Domino's Pizza (UK) 79.8
3 Marston's 79.0
4 SSP Group 76.0
5 Greene King 71.1

JD Wetherspoon moves from fifth to first, while Domino's expands

JD Wetherspoon founder Tim Martin bemoans the VAT burden placed on pubs almost as vocally as he boosts Brexit. With pre-tax profits for the year up 25% to £102.8m and a new table top service app, it’s beer and sandwiches all round. Domino’s Pizza is up next: a focus on providing good value to cash-strapped Brits helped UK sales rise 11.6% in Q3, and the chain now has over 1,000 outlets in the country. The Charles Wells takeover – plus the craft beer boom – helped independent brewery Marston’s to third place. Sales in its drinks-led pubs were also up 1.6% year-on-year. After years in decline, perhaps the ‘wet led’ British boozer is finally making a comeback?

Retail - food and personal

RankCompanyScore
1 Aldi (UK) 85.4
2 Lidl (UK) 81.7
3 Tesco 81.5
4 Wallgreens Boots Alliance 80.1
5 J Sainsbury 77.3

German quality and value help Aldi and Lidl take top two places

No surprises to see a German one two here as Aldi and Lidl clean up. Good quality and value – plus canny promotions like Aldi’s £1.69 Christmas sandwiches and Lidl’s £14.99 Côte de Boeuf – continue to pull in bargain-hunting Brits. The pair have 12% of the UK market. In third is troubled giant Tesco, recovering from the double hit of its £250m accounting scandal and punters falling out of love with its dreary big box stores. H1 profits of £562m were enough for boss Dave Lewis to pay a 1p dividend, but far from the firm’s £3bn noughties’ heyday. UK pharmacy sales at Walgreens Boots Alliance rose slightly, adding to overall group sales of £89.2bn for the year.

Software and computer services

RankCompanyScore
1 AVEVA Group 80.0
2 Morgan Advanced Materials 78.3
3 Sophos Group 77.8
4 Sage Group 77.5
5 Spectris 76.2

Hopefully it will be third time lucky for AVEVA Group's merger

Cambridge-based engineering software outfit AVEVA has announced – for the third time – that it is to merge with Schneider Electric in a £3bn deal under which it will remain headquartered in the UK. But as the attempts at union have failed twice already, the pressure is on to make it happen this time. High-tech materials business Morgan reported revenues up 9.2% to £518.9m in H1. With more than 100 million users of its security software and billings of $632m, Sophos is well placed to cash in on the cascade of cybercrime. FTSE 100 Sage Group is now the UK’s largest tech firm since the sale of ARM last year.

Telecoms

RankCompanyScore
1 Telefónica (UK) 78.5
2 BT Group 75.0
3 Vodafone 73.1
4 Inmarsat 71.3
5 CityFibre Infrastructure Hldgs. 63.6

O2’s parent Telefónica (UK) tops the sector, BT cuts landline costs

Telefónica (UK) put on 143,000 new UK users in Q3 with sales up 1.1% and market leading ‘churn’ of a modest 1% in a highly competitive market. Operating income fell by 4.7% to £370m however, largely due to the impact of the abolition of EU roaming charges in June. It’s long awaited £10bn IPO has been put off until next year by a legal challenge from rivals to the process of allocating radio spectrum rights. BT is slashing prices for landline-only customers after criticism from Ofcom about poor value for money. Vodafone is tackling German incumbent Deutsche Telekom, investing €2bn in superfast broadband in the country.

Utilities

RankCompanyScore
1 National Grid 84.0
2 Severn Trent 83.0
3 Centrica 82.4
4 SSE 81.8
5 Pennon Group 76.4

National Grid powers to number one, Severn Trent sells off land

Beloved of investors everywhere for its 45p-plus per share dividend, the sale of 61% of National Grid’s gas distribution business should enable similar largesse to continue into 2018. Severn Trent CEO Liv Garfield plans to sell its surplus land for housing, a move which could result in 1,000 new homes and £100m in extra profit over the next decade. Centrica shares hit a 14-year low in October after PM Theresa May announced intentions to cap energy prices for consumers – but CEO Iain Conn signalled his own confidence in the firm, buying £173,000 of shares at what he no doubt hopes will turn out to be a bargain price.