The European Business Performance database describes the performance of the largest enterprises in the twentieth century. It covers eight countries that together consistently account for above 80 per cent of western European GDP: Great Britain, Germany, France, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Sweden, and Finland. Data have been collected for five benchmark years, namely on the eve of WWI (1913), before the Great Depression (1927), at the extremes of the golden age (1954 and 1972), and in 2000.
The database is comprised of two distinct datasets. The Small Sample (625 firms) includes the largest enterprises in each country across all industries (economy-wide). To avoid over-representation of certain countries and sectors, countries contribute a number of firms that is roughly proportionate to the size of the economy: 30 firms from Great Britain, 25 from Germany, 20 from France, 15 from Italy, 10 from Belgium, Spain, and Sweden, and 5 from Finland. By the same token, a cap has been set on the number of financial firms entering the sample, so that they range between up to 6 for Britain and 1 for Finland.
The second dataset, or Large Sample (1,167 firms), is made up of the largest firms per industry. Here industries are so selected as to take into account long-term technological developments and the rise of entirely new products and services. Firms have been individually classified using the two-digit ISIC Rev. 3.1 codes, then grouped under a manageable number of industries. To some extent and broadly speaking, the two samples have a rather distinct focus: the Small Sample is biased in favour of sheer bigness, whereas the Large Sample emphasizes industries.
As far as size and performance indicators are concerned, total assets has been picked as the main size measure in the first three benchmarks, turnover in 1972 and 2000 (financial intermediaries, though, are ranked by total assets throughout the database). Performance is gauged by means of two financial ratios, namely return on equity and shareholders’ return, i.e. the percentage year-on-year change in share price based on year-end values. In order to smooth out volatility, at each benchmark performance figures have been averaged over three consecutive years (for instance, performance in 1913 reflects average performance in 1911, 1912, and 1913).
All figures were collected in national currency and converted to US dollars at current year-average exchange rates.