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arXiv:0902.0878v2 [q-fin.GN] 21 Aug 2009

J.B. Glattfelder and S. Battiston:

Backbone of complex networks of corporations: The ﬂow of control

Physical Review E 80 (2009)

Backbone of complex networks of corporations:

The ﬂow of control

J.B. Glattfelder and S. Battiston

Chair of Systems Design, ETH Zurich, Kreuzplatz 5, 8032 Zurich, Switzerland

Abstract

We present a methodology to extract the backbone of complex networks based on the

weight and direction of links, as well as on nontopological properties of nodes. We show how

the methodology can be applied in general to networks in which mass or energy is ﬂowing

along the links. In particular, the procedure enables us to address important questions in

economics, namely, how control and wealth are structured and concentrated across national

markets. We report on the ﬁrst cross-country investigation of ownership networks, focusing

on the stock markets of 48 countries around the world. On the one hand, our analysis conﬁrms

results expected on the basis of the literature on corporate control, namely, that in Anglo-

Saxon countries control tends to be dispersed among numerous shareholders. On the other

hand, it also reveals that in the same countries, control is found to be highly concentrated at

the global level, namely, lying in the hands of very few important shareholders. Interestingly,

the exact opposite is observed for European countries. These results have previously not been

reported as they are not observable without the kind of network analysis developed here.

PACS numbers: 89.65.Gh, 64.60.aq, 02.50.–r

I Introduction

The empirical analysis of real-world complex networks has revealed unsuspected regularities

such as scaling laws which are robust across many domains, ranging from biology or computer

systems to society and economics [1, 2, 3, 4]. This has suggested that universal or at least

generic mechanisms are at work in the formation of many such networks. Tools and concepts

from statistical physics have been crucial for the achievement of these ﬁndings [5, 6].

In the last years, in order to oﬀer useful insights into more detailed research questions, several

studies have started taking into account the speciﬁc meaning of the nodes and links in the

various domains the real-world networks pertain to [7, 8]. Three levels of analysis are possible.

The lowest level corresponds to a purely topological approach where the network is described

by a binary adjacency matrix. By taking weights [7], or weights and direction [9], of the links

into account, the second level is deﬁned. Only recent studies have started focusing on the third

level of detail, in which the nodes themselves are assigned a degree of freedom, sometimes also

called ﬁtness. This is a nontopological state variable which shapes the topology of the network

[8, 10, 11].

The physics literature on complex economic networks has previously focused on boards of di-

rectors [12, 13], market investments [10, 14], stock price correlations [15, 16], and international

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J.B. Glattfelder and S. Battiston:

Backbone of complex networks of corporations: The ﬂow of control

Physical Review E 80 (2009)

trade [17, 18, 19]. Here we instead present a comprehensive cross-country analysis of 48 stock

markets world wide. Our ﬁrst contribution is an algorithm able to identify and extract the back-

bone in the networks of ownership relations among ﬁrms: the core subnetwork where most of the

value and control of the market resides. Notably, we also provide a generalization of the method

applicable to networks in which weighted directed links and nontopological properties of nodes

play a role. In particular, the method is relevant for networks in which there is a ﬂow of mass

(or energy) along the links and one is interested in identifying the subset of nodes where a given

fraction of the mass of the system is ﬂowing. The growing interest in methods for extracting the

backbone of complex networks is witnessed by recent work in similar direction [20].

Furthermore, given the economic context of the analyzed networks, we contribute a model to

estimate corporate control based on the knowledge of the ownership ties. In order to identify the

key players according to their degree of control, we take the value of the market capitalization

of the listed companies (a good proxy for their size) to be the nontopological state variable of

nodes in the network. Our main empirical results are in contrast with previously held views

in the economics literature [21], where a local distribution of control was not suspected to

systematically result in global concentration of control and vice versa.

II Dataset

We are able to employ a unique data set consisting of ﬁnancial information of listed companies

in national stock markets. The ownership network is given by the web of shareholding relations

from and to such companies. The analysis is constrained to 48 countries given in Appendix A.

The data are compiled from Bureau van Dijk’s ORBIS database1. In total, we analyze 24 877

corporations (or stocks) and 106 141 shareholding entities who cannot be owned themselves (in-

dividuals, families, cooperative societies, registered associations, foundations, public authorities,

etc.). Note that because the corporations can also appear as shareholders, the network does not

display a bipartite structure. The stocks are connected through 545 896 ownership ties to their

shareholders. The database represents a snapshot of the ownership relations at the beginning of

2007. The values for the market capitalization, which is deﬁned as the number of outstanding

shares times the ﬁrm’s market price, are also from early 2007. These values will serve as the

nontopological state variables assigned to the nodes.

We ensure that every node in the network is a distinct entity. In addition, as theoretically the

sum of the shareholdings of a company should be 100%, we normalize the ownership percentages

if the sum is smaller due to unreported shareholdings. Such missing ownership data is nearly

always due to their percentage values being very small and hence negligible.

1http://www.bvdep.com/orbis.html.

2/24

J.B. Glattfelder and S. Battiston:

Backbone of complex networks of corporations: The ﬂow of control

Physical Review E 80 (2009)

Figure 1: Schematic illustration of a bow-tie topology: the central area is the strongly connected

component (SCC), where there is a path from each node to every other node, and the left (IN)

and right (OUT) sections contain the incoming and outgoing nodes, respectively.

III Three-Level Network Analysis

Not all networks can be associated with a notion of ﬂow. For instance, in the international trade

network the fact that country A exports to B and B exports to C does not imply that goods

are ﬂowing from A to C. In contrast, in ownership networks the distance between two nodes

(along a directed path) corresponds to a precise economic meaning which can be captured in a

measure of control that considers all directed paths of all lengths (see Sec. III.4). In addition,

the weight of an ownership link has a meaning relative to the weight of the other links attached

to the same node. Finally, the value of the nodes themselves is very important. Therefore, in the

following, we focus on network measures which take these aspects into account, and we do not

report on standard measures such as degree distribution, assortativity, clustering coeﬃcients,

average path lengths, connected components, etc.

III.1 Level 1: Topological analysis

We start from the analysis of strongly connected components. These subgraphs correspond to

sets of corporations where every ﬁrm is connected to every other ﬁrm via a path of indirect

ownership. Furthermore, strongly connected components may form bow-tie structures, akin to

the topology of the world wide web [22]. Fig. 1 illustrates an idealized bow-tie topology. This

structure reﬂects the ﬂow of control, as every shareholder in the IN section exerts control and

all corporations in the OUT section are controlled.

We ﬁnd that roughly two thirds of the countries’ ownership networks contain bow-tie structures

(see also [23]). As an example, the countries with the highest occurrence of (small) bow-tie

structures are KR and TW, and to a lesser degree JP. A possible determinant is the well-known

existence of so-called business groups in these countries (e.g., the keiretsu in JP, and the chaebol

in KR) forming a tightly knit web of cross shareholdings [24, 25]. For AU, CA, GB, and US

we observe very few but large bow-tie structures of which the biggest ones contain hundreds to

thousands of corporations. This raises the question relevant to economics: if the emergence of

these mega-structures in the Anglo-Saxon countries is due to their unique “type” of capitalism

3/24

J.B. Glattfelder and S. Battiston:

Backbone of complex networks of corporations: The ﬂow of control

Physical Review E 80 (2009)

i1i2i3

j

sj

Wi1j

Wi2j

Wi3j

Figure 2: Deﬁnition of the concentration index sj, measuring the number of prominent incoming

edges, respectively, the eﬀective number of shareholders of the stock j. When all the weights are

equal, then sj=kin

j, where kin

jis the in degree of vertex j. When one weight is overwhelmingly

larger than the others, the concentration index approaches the value one, meaning that there

exists a single dominant shareholder of j.

(the so-called Atlantic or stock market capitalism [26]), and whether this ﬁnding contradicts the

assumption that these markets are characterized by the absence of business groups [24].

III.2 Level 2: Extending the notions of degree

In graph theory, the number kiof edges per vertex iis called the degree. If the edges are oriented,

one has to distinguish between the in degree and out degree, kin and kout , respectively. When

the edges ij are weighted with the number wij, the corresponding quantity is called strength [7]:

kw

i:= X

j

Wij.(1)

When there are no weights associated with the edges, we expect all edges to count the same.

If weights have a large variance, some edges will be more important than others. A way of

measuring the number of prominent incoming edges is to deﬁne the concentration index [27] as

follows:

sj:= Pkin

j

i=1 Wij 2

Pkin

j

i=1 W2

ij

.(2)

Note that this quantity is akin to the inverse of the Herﬁndahl index extensively used in eco-

nomics as a standard indicator of market concentration [28]. Notably, a similar measure has

also been used in statistical physics as an order parameter [29]. A recent study [20] employs a

Herﬁndahl index in their backbone extraction method for weighted directed networks (where,

however, the nodes hold no nontopological information). In the context of ownership networks,

sjis interpreted as the eﬀective number of shareholders of the stock j, as explained in Fig. 2.

Thus it can be understood as a measure of control from the point of view of a stock.

The second quantity to be introduced measures the number of important outgoing edges of the

vertices. For a given vertex i, with a destination vertex j, we ﬁrst deﬁne a measure which reﬂects

4/24

J.B. Glattfelder and S. Battiston:

Backbone of complex networks of corporations: The ﬂow of control

Physical Review E 80 (2009)

i1

j1

j2

j3

i2

i3

Hi1j1

Hi1j2

Hi1j3

Hi2j3

Hi3j3

hi1

Figure 3: The deﬁnition of the control index hi, measuring the number of prominent outgoing

edges. In the context of ownership networks this value represents the eﬀective number of stocks

that are controlled by shareholder i. Note that to obtain such a measure, we have to consider

the fraction of control Hij, which is a model of how ownership can be mapped to control (see

the discussion in Appendix B).

the importance of iwith respect to all vertices connecting to j:

Hij := W2

ij

Pkin

j

l=1 W2

lj

.(3)

This quantity has values in the interval (0,1]. For instance, if Hij ≈1 then iis by far the most

important source vertex for the vertex j. For our ownership network, Hij represents the fraction

of control [27] shareholder ihas on the company j. As shown in Fig. 3, this quantity is a way

of measuring how important the outgoing edges of a node iare with respect to its neighbors’

neighbors. For an interpretation of Hij from an economics point of view, consult Appendix B.

From that, we then deﬁne the control index,

hi:=

kout

i

X

j=1

Hij.(4)

Within the ownership network setting, hiis interpreted as the eﬀective number of stocks con-

trolled by shareholder i.

III.3 Distributions of sand h

Fig. 4 shows the probability density function (PDF) of sjfor a selection of nine countries (for

the full sample consult [30]). There is a diversity in the shapes and ranges of the distributions

to be seen. For instance, the distribution of GB reveals that many companies have more than

20 leading shareholders, whereas in IT few companies are held by more than ﬁve signiﬁcant

shareholders. Such country-speciﬁc signatures were expected to appear due to the diﬀerences in

legal and institutional settings (e.g., law enforcement and protection of minority shareholders

[31]).

On the other hand, looking at the cumulative distribution function (CDF) of kout

i(shown for

three selected countries in the top panel of Fig. 5; the full sample is available at [30]) a more

uniform shape is revealed. The distributions range across two to three orders of magnitude.

5/24

J.B. Glattfelder and S. Battiston:

Backbone of complex networks of corporations: The ﬂow of control

Physical Review E 80 (2009)

1 5 10 20

10−3

10−2

10−1

100JP

1 5 10 20

10−2

10−1

100DE

1 5 10 20

10−2

10−1

100FR

1 5 10 20 40

10−3

10−2

10−1

100GB

1 5 10 20

10−2

10−1

100SG

1 5 10 20 40

10−2

10−1

100IT

1 5 10 20

10−3

10−2

10−1

100TW

1 5 10 20 4070

10−3

10−2

10−1

100US

1 5 10 20

10−3

10−2

10−1

100IN

ln sln sln s

PDF PDF PDF

Figure 4: Probability distributions of sjfor selected countries; PDF in log-log scale.

Hence some shareholders can hold up to a couple of thousand stocks, whereas the majority

have ownership in less than 10. Considering the CDF of hi, seen in the middle panel of Fig. 5,

one can observe that the curves of hidisplay two regimes. This is true for nearly all analyzed

countries, with a slight country-dependent variability. Notable exceptions are FI, IS, LU, PT,

TN, TW, and VG. In order to understand this behavior it is useful to look at the PDF of hi,

shown in the bottom panel of Fig. 5. This uncovers a systematic feature: the peak at the value

of hi= 1 indicates that there are many shareholders in the markets whose only intention is to

control one single stock. This observation, however, could also be due to a database artifact as

incompleteness of the data may result in many stocks having only one reported shareholder. In

100101102103

10−3

10−2

10−1

100JP

100101102

10−3

10−2

10−1

100DE

100101102103

10−4

10−3

10−2

10−1

100US

10−1 100101102

10−3

10−2

10−1

100

10−1 100

10−3

10−2

10−1

100

10−1 100101102

10−4

10−3

10−2

10−1

100

10−1 100101102

10−3

10−2

10−1

100

10−1 100

10−3

10−2

10−1

100

10−1 100101102

10−4

10−3

10−2

10−1

100

ln hlnhln h

ln hlnhln h

ln kout

ln kout

ln kout

PDF CDF CDF

Figure 5: Various probability distributions for selected countries: (top panel) CDF plot of kout

i;

(middle panel) CDF plot of hi; (bottom panel) PDF plot of hi; all plots are in log-log scale.

6/24

J.B. Glattfelder and S. Battiston:

Backbone of complex networks of corporations: The ﬂow of control

Physical Review E 80 (2009)

order to check that this result is indeed a feature of the markets, we constrain these ownership

relations to the ones being bigger than 50%, reﬂecting incontestable control. In a subsequent

analysis we still observe this pattern in many countries (BM, CA, CH, DE, FR, GB, ID, IN,

KY, MY, TH, US, and ZA; ES being the most pronounced). In addition, we ﬁnd many such

shareholders to be non-ﬁrms, i.e., people, families, or legal entities, hardening the evidence for

this type of exclusive control. This result emphasizes the utility of the newly deﬁned measures

to uncover relevant structures in the real-world ownership networks.

III.4 Level 3: Adding nontopological values

The quantities deﬁned in Eqs. (2) and (4) rely on the direction and weight of the links. However,

they do not consider nontopological state variables assigned to the nodes themselves. In our

case of ownership networks, a natural choice is to use the market capitalization value of ﬁrms in

thousand US dollars (USD), vj, as a proxy for their sizes. Hence vjwill be utilized as the state

variable in the subsequent analysis. In a ﬁrst step, we address the question of how much wealth

the shareholders own, i.e., the value in their portfolios.

As the percentage of ownership given by Wij is a measure of the fraction of outstanding shares

iholds in j, and the market capitalization of jis deﬁned by the number of outstanding shares

times the market price, the following quantity reﬂects i’s portfolio value:

pi:=

kout

i

X

j=1

Wij vj.(5)

Extending this measure to incorporate the notions of control, we replace Wij in the previous

equation with the fraction of control Hij , deﬁned in Eq. (3), yielding the control value:

ci:=

kout

i

X

j=1

Hijvj.(6)

A high civalue is indicative of the possibility to control a portfolio with a big market capital-

ization value. Recall that the economic meaning of Hij is discussed in Appendix B.

It should be noted that Eq. (6) only considers direct neighbors. To address the question of how

control propagates via all possible direct and indirect ownership paths, the so-called integrated

model has been proposed [32], which we brieﬂy sketch. Consider a sample of nﬁrms connected

by cross-shareholding relations. Let Aij, with i, j = 1,2, ..., n, be the ownership (Wij) or control

(Hij) that company ihas directly on company j, and A= [Aij ] is the matrix of all the links

between every one of the nﬁrms. By deﬁnition, it holds that

n

X

i=1

Aij ≤1; j= 1, ..., n. (7)

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J.B. Glattfelder and S. Battiston:

Backbone of complex networks of corporations: The ﬂow of control

Physical Review E 80 (2009)

When some shareholders of company iare not identiﬁed or are outside the sample n, the inequal-

ity becomes strict. The integrated model accounts for direct and indirect ownership through a

recursive computation. The general form of the equation reads

˜

Aij := Aij +X

n

Ain ˜

Anj,(8)

where the tilde denotes integrated ownership or control. This expression can be written in matrix

form as

˜

A=A+A˜

A, (9)

the solution of which is given by

˜

A= (I−A)−1A. (10)

For the matrix (I−A) to be non-negative and non-singular, a suﬃcient condition is that the

Frobenius root is smaller than one, λ(A)<1. This is ensured by the following requirement: in

each strongly connected component Sthere exists at least one node jsuch that Pi∈S Aij <1.

In an economic setting, this means that there exists no subset of kﬁrms (k= 1,...,n) that

are entirely owned by the kﬁrms themselves. A condition which is always fulﬁlled in ownership

networks [32].

In order to deﬁne the integrated control value ˜ciin the same spirit as Eq. (6), we ﬁrst solve

Eq. (10) for the fraction of control Hij , which yields the integrated fraction of control ˜

Hij. ˜ci

represents the value of control a shareholder gains from companies reached by all direct and

indirect paths of ownership:

˜ci:=

kout

i

X

j=1

˜

Hijvj.(11)

This quantity is used in the next section to identify and rank the shareholders by importance.

IV Identifying the Backbone of Corporate Control

IV.1 Computing cumulative control

The ﬁrst step of our methodology requires the construction of a Lorenz-like curve in order to

uncover the distribution of the control in a market. In economics, the Lorenz curve gives a

graphical representation of the cumulative distribution function of a probability distribution.

It is often used to represent income distributions, where the xaxis ranks the poorest x% of

households and relates them to a percentage value of income on the yaxis.

Here, on the xaxis we rank the shareholders according to their importance — as measured by

their integrated control value ˜ci, cf., Eqs. (3), (10), and (11) — and report the fraction they

represent with respect to the whole set of shareholder. The yaxis shows the corresponding

8/24

J.B. Glattfelder and S. Battiston:

Backbone of complex networks of corporations: The ﬂow of control

Physical Review E 80 (2009)

Figure 6: First steps in computing cumulative control: (top panel) selecting the most important

shareholder (light shading) ranked according to the ˜civalues and the portfolio of stocks owned

at more than 50% (dark shading); in the second step (bottom panel), the next most important

shareholder is added; although there are now no new stocks which are owned directly at more

than 50%, cumulatively the two shareholder own an additional stock at 55%.

percentage of controlled market value, deﬁned as the fraction of the total market value they

collectively or cumulatively control.

In order to motivate the notion of cumulative control, some preliminary remarks are required.

Using the integrated control value to rank the shareholders means that we implicitly assume

control based on the integrated fraction of control ˜

Hij. This however is a potential value reﬂecting

possible control. In order to identify the backbone, we take a very conservative approach to the

question of what the actual control of a shareholder is. To this aim, we introduce a stringent

threshold of 50%. Any shareholder with an ownership percentage Wij >0.5 controls by default.

This strict notion of control for a single shareholder is then generalized to apply to the cumulative

control a group of shareholders can exert. Namely, by requiring the sum of ownership percentages

multiple shareholders have in a common stock to exceed the threshold of cumulative control. Its

value is equivalently chosen to be 50%.

We start the computation of cumulative control by identifying the shareholder having the highest

˜civalue. From the portfolio of this holder, we extract the stocks that are owned at more than

the said 50%. In the next step, the shareholder with the second highest ˜civalue is selected.

Next to the stocks individually held at more than 50% by this shareholder, additional stocks are

considered, which are cumulatively owned by the top two shareholders at more than the said

threshold value. See Fig. 6 for an illustrated example.

Uin(n) is deﬁned to be the set of indices of the stocks that are individually held above the

threshold value by the nselected top shareholders. Equivalently, Ucu(n) represents the set of

indices of the cumulatively controlled companies. It holds that Uin (n)∩Ucu(n) = ∅. At each step

n, the total value of this newly constructed portfolio, Uin(n)∪Ucu (n), is computed:

vcu(n) := X

j∈Uin(n)

vj+X

j∈Ucu(n)

vj.(12)

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J.B. Glattfelder and S. Battiston:

Backbone of complex networks of corporations: The ﬂow of control

Physical Review E 80 (2009)

10−4 10−3 10−2 10−1 100

0

0.1

0.2

0.3

0.4

0.5

0.6

0.7

0.8

0.9

1

US

GB

JP

DE

IT

CN

KR

IN

ϑ(Market Value, %)

η(Shareholder Rank, %)

Cumulative Control

Figure 7: (Color online) Fraction of shareholders η, sorted by descending (integrated) control

value ˜ci, cumulatively controlling ϑpercent of the total market value; the horizontal line denotes

a market value of 80%; the diagram is in semilogarithmic scale.

Eq. (12) is in contrast to Eq. (5), where the total value of the stocks jis multiplied by the

ownership percentage Wij.

Let ntot be the total number of shareholders in a market and vtot the total market value. We

normalize with these values, deﬁning:

η(n) := n

ntot

, ϑ(n) := vcu(n)

vtot

,(13)

where η, ϑ ∈(0,1].

In Fig. (7) these values are plotted against each other for a selection of countries (the full sample

is in [30]), yielding the cumulative control diagram, akin to a Lorenz curve (with reversed x

axis). As an example, a coordinate pair with value (10−3,0.2) reveals that the top 0.1% of

shareholders cumulatively control 20% of the total market value. The top right corner of the

diagram represents 100% of the shareholders controlling 100% of the market value, and the ﬁrst

data point in the lower left-hand corner denotes the most important shareholder of each country.

Diﬀerent countries show a varying degree of concentration of control.

It should be emphasized that our analysis unveils the importance of shareholders: the ranking of

every shareholder is based on all direct and indirect paths of control of any length. In contrast,

most other empirical studies start their analysis from a set of important stocks (e.g., ranked

by market capitalization). The methods of accounting for indirect control (see Sec. III.4) are,

if at all, only employed to detect the so-called ultimate owners of the stocks. For instance, [33]

studies the ten largest corporations in 49 countries, [31] looks at the 20 largest public companies

in 27 countries, [34] analyzes 2980 companies in nine East Asian countries, and [35] utilizes a

set of 800 Belgian ﬁrms.

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J.B. Glattfelder and S. Battiston:

Backbone of complex networks of corporations: The ﬂow of control

Physical Review E 80 (2009)

Algorithm 1 BB(˜c1,...,˜cn,δ,ˆ

ϑ)

1: ˜c←sort descending(˜c1,...,˜cn)

2: repeat

3: c←get largest(˜c)

4: I←I∪index(c)

5: P F ←stocks controlled by(I) (individually and cumulatively at more than δ)

6: P F V ←value of portf olio(P F )

7: ˜c←˜c\ {c}

8: until P F V ≥ˆ

ϑ·total market value

9: prune network(I , P F )

Finally, note that although the identity of the individual controlling shareholders is lost due

to the introduction of cumulative control, the emphasis lies on the fact that the controlling

shareholders are present in the set of the ﬁrst nholders.

IV.2 Extracting the backbone

Once the curve of the cumulative control is known for a market, one can set a threshold for

the percentage of jointly controlled market value, ˆ

ϑ. This results in the identiﬁcation of the

percentage ˆηof shareholders that theoretically hold the power to control this value, if they were

to coordinate their activities in corresponding voting blocks. The subnetwork of these power

holders and their portfolios is called the backbone. Here we choose the value ˆ

ϑ= 0.8, revealing

the power holders able to control 80% of the total market value.

Algorithm (1) gives the complete recipe for computing the backbone. As inputs, the algorithm

requires all the ˜civalues, the threshold deﬁning the level of (cumulative) control δand the

threshold for the considered market value ˆ

ϑ. Steps 1 – 7 are required for the cumulative control

computation and δis set to 0.5. Step 8 speciﬁes the interruption requirement given by the

controlled portfolio value being bigger than ˆ

ϑtimes the total market value.

Finally, in step 9, the subnetwork of power holders and their new portfolios is pruned to eliminate

weak links and further enhance the important structures. For each stock jin the union of these

portfolios, only as many shareholders are kept as the rounded value of sjindicates, i.e., the

(approximate) eﬀective number of shareholders. Although a power holder can be in the portfolio

of other power holders, the pruning only considers the incoming links. That is, if jhas ﬁve holders

but sjis roughly three, only the three largest shareholders are considered for the backbone. The

portfolio of jis left untouched. In eﬀect, the weakest links and any resulting isolated nodes are

removed.

11/24

J.B. Glattfelder and S. Battiston:

Backbone of complex networks of corporations: The ﬂow of control

Physical Review E 80 (2009)

IV.3 Generalizing the method of backbone extraction

Notice that our method can be generalized to any directed and weighted network in which (1)

a nontopological real value vj≥0 can be assigned to the nodes (with the condition that vj>0

for at least all the leaf nodes in the network) and (2) an edge from node ito jwith weight

Wij implies that some of the value of jis transferred to i. Assume that the nodes which are

associated with a value vjproduce vjunits of mass at time t= 1. Then the ﬂow φientering the

node ifrom each node jat time tis the fraction Wij of the mass produced directly by jplus

the same fraction of the inﬂow of j:

φi(t+ 1) = X

j

Wijvj+X

j

Wij φi(t),(14)

where PiWij = 1 for the nodes jthat have predecessors and PiWij = 0 for the root nodes

(sinks). In matrix notation, at the steady state, this yields

φ=W(v+φ).(15)

The solution

φ= (1 −W)−1W v , (16)

exists and is unique if λ(W)<1. This condition is easily fulﬁlled in real networks as it re-

quires that in each strongly connected component Sthere exists at least one node jsuch that

Pi∈S Wij <1. Or, equivalently, the mass circulating in Sis also ﬂowing to some node outside

of S. To summarize, some of the nodes only produce mass (all the leaf nodes but possibly also

other nodes) at time t= 1 and are thus sources, while the root nodes accumulate the mass.

Notice that the mass is conserved at all nodes except at the sinks.

The convention used in this paper implies that mass ﬂows against the direction of the edges. This

makes sense in the case of ownership because although the cash allowing an equity stake in a

ﬁrm to be held ﬂows in the direction of the edges, control is transferred in the opposite direction,

from the corporation to its shareholders. This is also true for the paid dividends. Observe that

the integrated control value deﬁned in Eq. (11) can be written in matrix notation as

˜c=˜

Hv = (1 −H)−1H v, (17)

which is in fact equivalent to Eq. (16). This implies that for any node ithe integrated control

value ˜ci=Pj˜

Hijvjcorresponds to the inﬂow φiof mass in the steady state.

Returning to the generic setting, let U0and E0be, respectively, the set of vertices and edges

yielding the network. We deﬁne a subset U⊆U0of vertices on which we want to focus on (in

the analysis presented earlier U=U0). Let E⊆E0then be the set of edges among the vertices

in Uand introduce ˆ

ϑ, a threshold for the fraction of aggregate ﬂow through the nodes of the

network. If the relative importance of neighboring nodes is crucial, Hij is computed from Wij

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Backbone of complex networks of corporations: The ﬂow of control

Physical Review E 80 (2009)

by the virtue of Eq. (3). Note that Hij can be replaced by any function of the weights Wij that

is suitable in the context of the network under examination. We now solve Eq. (10) to obtain

the integrated value ˜

Hij. This yields the quantitative relation of the indirect connections among

the nodes. To be precise, it should be noted that in some networks the weight of an indirect

connection is not correctly captured by the product of the weights along the path between the

two nodes. In such cases one has to modify Eq. (8) accordingly.

The next step in the backbone extraction procedure is to identify the fraction of ﬂow that is

transferred by a subset of nodes. A systematic way of doing this was presented in Sec. IV.1

where we constructed the curve, (η, ϑ). A general recipe for such a construction is the following.

On the xaxis all the nodes are ranked by their φivalue in descending order and the fraction

they represent with respect to size of Uis captured. The yaxis then shows the corresponding

percentage of ﬂow the nodes transfer. As an example, the ﬁrst k(ranked) nodes represent the

fraction η(k) = k/|U|of all nodes that cumulatively transfer the amount ϑ(k) = (Pk

i=1 φi)/φtot

of the total ﬂow. Furthermore, ˆηcorresponds to the percentage of top ranked nodes that pipe

the predeﬁned fraction ˆ

ϑof all the mass ﬂowing in the whole network. Note that the procedure

described in Sec. IV.1 is somewhat diﬀerent. There we considered the fraction of the total value

given by the direct successors of the nodes with largest ˜ci. This makes sense due to the special

nature of the ownership networks under investigation, where every non-ﬁrm shareholder (root

node) is directly linked to at least one corporation (leaf node), and the corporations are connected

among themselves.

Consider the union of the nodes identiﬁed by ˆηand their direct and indirect successors, together

with the links among them. This is a subnetwork B= (UB, EB), with UB⊂Uand EB⊂E

that comprises, by construction, the fraction ˆ

ϑof the total ﬂow. This is a ﬁrst possible deﬁnition

of the backbone of (U, E). A discussion of the potential application of this procedure to other

domains, and a more detailed description of the generalized methodology (along with speciﬁc

reﬁnements pertaining to the context given by the networks) is left for future work. Viable

candidates are the world trade web [8, 17, 36, 37], food webs [4], transportation networks [38],

and credit networks [39].

IV.4 Deﬁning classiﬁcation measures

According to economists, markets diﬀer from one country to another in a variety of respects

[31, 33]. They may not look too diﬀerent if one restricts the analysis to the distribution of local

quantities, and in particular to the degree, as shown in Sec. III.3. In contrast, at the level of

the backbones, i.e., the structures where most of the value resides, they can look strikingly

dissimilar. As seen for instance in the case of CN and JP, shown in Fig. 8. In the following, we

provide a quantitative classiﬁcation of these diverse structures based on the indicators used to

construct the backbones.

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Figure 8: (Top) the backbone of JP; (bottom) the backbone of CN (for the complete set of

backbone layouts consult [30]); the graph layouts are based on [40].

Let nst and nsh denote the number of stocks and shareholders in a backbone, respectively. As

sjmeasures the eﬀective number of shareholders of a company, the average value,

s=Pnst

j=1 sj

nst

,(18)

is a good proxy characterizing the local patterns of ownership: the higher s, the more dispersed

the ownership is in the backbone or the more common is the appearance of widely held ﬁrms.

Furthermore, due to the construction of sj, the metric sequivalently measures the local concen-

tration of control.

In a similar vein, the average value

h=Pnsh

i=1 hi

nsh

=nst

nsh

,(19)

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Physical Review E 80 (2009)

Figure 9: The map of control: illustration of idealized network topologies in terms of local

dispersion of control (s) vs global concentration of control (h); shareholders and stocks are shown

as empty and ﬁlled bullets, respectively; arrows represent ownership; region (E) is excluded due

to consistency constraints; (A) does not necessarily need to be a single connected structure; see

Fig. 11 for the empirical results.

reﬂects the global distribution of control. A high value of hmeans that the considered backbone

has very few shareholders compared to stocks, exposing a high degree of global concentration of

control. Recall that nst and nsh refer to the backbone and not to the original network. Fig. 9

shows the possible generic backbone conﬁgurations resulting from local and global distributions

of control.

Remember also that in order to construct the backbones we had to specify a threshold for

the controlled market value: ˆ

ϑ= 0.8. In the cumulative control diagram seen in Fig. (7), this

allows the identiﬁcation of the number of shareholders being able to control this value. The

value ˆηreﬂects the percentage of power holders corresponding to ˆ

ϑ. To adjust for the variability

introduced by the diﬀerent numbers of shareholders present in the various national stock markets,

we chose to normalize ˆη. Let n100 denote the smallest number of shareholders controlling 100%

of the total market value vtot, then

η′:= ˆη

n100

.(20)

A small value for η′means that there will be very few shareholders in the backbone compared

to the number of shareholders present in the whole market, reﬂecting that the market value

is extremely concentrated in the hands of a few shareholders. In essence, the metric η′is an

emergent property of the backbone extraction algorithm and mirrors the global distribution of

the value.

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Figure 10: (Color online) The backbone of CH is a subnetwork of the original ownership network

which was comprised of 972 shareholders, 266 stocks, and 4671 ownership relations; ﬁrms are

denoted by red nodes and sized by market capitalization, shareholders are blue, whereas ﬁrms

owning stocks themselves are represented by red nodes with thick blue bounding circles, arrows

are weighted by the percentage of ownership value; the graph layouts are based on [40].

V Analyzing the Backbones

How relevant are the backbones and how many properties of the real-world ownership networks

are captured by the classiﬁcation measure? As a qualitative example, Fig. (10) shows the layout

for the CH backbone network. Looking at the few stocks left in the backbone, it is indeed the case

that the important corporations reappear (recall that the algorithm selected the shareholders).

We ﬁnd a cluster of shareholdings linking, for instance, Nestl´e, Novartis, Roche Holding, UBS,

Credit Suisse Group, ABB, Swiss Re, and Swatch. JPMorgan Chase & Co. features as the most

important controlling shareholder. The descendants of the founding families of Roche (Hoﬀmann

and Oeri) are the highest ranked Swiss shareholders at position four. UBS follows as dominant

Swiss shareholder at rank seven.

We can also recover some previous empirical results. The “widely held” index [31] assigns to a

country a value of one if there are no controlling shareholders, and zero if all ﬁrms in the sample

are controlled above a given threshold. The study is done with a 10% and 20% cut-oﬀ value

for the threshold. We ﬁnd a 76.6% correlation (and a pvalue for testing the hypothesis of no

correlation of 3.2×10−6) between sin the backbones and the 10% cut-oﬀ “widely held” index

for the 27 countries it is reported for. The correlation of sin the countries’ whole ownership

networks is 60.0% (9.3×10−4). For the 20% cutoﬀ, the correlation values are smaller. These

relations should however be handled with care, as the study [31] is restricted to the 20 largest

ﬁrms (in terms of market capitalization) in the analyzed countries and there is a 12 year lag

between the data sets in the two studies.

The backbone extraction algorithm is also a good test for the robustness of market patterns. The

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Physical Review E 80 (2009)

0 0.5 1 1.5 2 2.5

−2

−1

0

1

2

3

4

AE

AR AT

AU

BE BM

CA

CH

CL

CN DE

DK

ES

FI

FR

GB

GR

HK

ID

IE

IL

IN

IS

IT

JO

JP

KR

KW

KY

LU

MX

MY

NLNO

NZ

OM

PH

PT

SA

SE

SG

TH

TN

TR

TW

US

VG

ZA

ln(s)

ln(h)

Figure 11: Map of control: local dispersion of control, s, is plotted against global concentration

of control, h, for 48 countries.

bow-tie structures (discussed in Sec. III.1) in JP, KR, and TW vanish or are negligibly small in

their backbones, whereas in the backbones of the Anglo-Saxon countries (and as an outlier SE)

one sizable bow-tie structure survives. This emphasizes the strength and hence the importance

of these patterns in the markets of AU, CA, GB, and US.

V.1 Global concentration of control

We utilize the measures deﬁned in Sec. IV.4 to classify the 48 backbones. In Fig. 11 the loga-

rithmic values of sand hare plotted against each other. sis a local measure for the dispersion

of control (at ﬁrst-neighbor level, insensitive to value). A large value indicates a high presence of

widely held ﬁrms. his an indicator of the global concentration of control [an integrated measure,

i.e., derived by virtue of Eq. (10), at second-neighbor level, insensitive to value]. Large values

are indicative that the control of many stocks resides in the hands of very few shareholders. The

scoordinates of the countries are as expected [31]: to the right we see countries known to have

widely held ﬁrms (AU, GB, and US). Instead, FR, IT, and JP are located to the left, reﬂecting

more concentrated local control. However, there is a counterintuitive trend in the data: the more

local control is dispersed, the higher the global concentration of control becomes. What looks

like a democratic distribution of control from close up, actually turns out to warp into highly

concentrated control in the hands of very few shareholders. On the other hand, the local concen-

tration of control is in fact widely distributed among many controlling shareholder. Comparing

with Fig. 9, where idealized network conﬁgurations are illustrated, we conclude that the empir-

ical patterns of local and global control correspond to network topologies ranging from types

(B) to type (D), with JP combining local and global concentration of control. Interestingly, type

(A) and (C) constellations are not observed in the data.

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Backbone of complex networks of corporations: The ﬂow of control

Physical Review E 80 (2009)

0 0.5 1 1.5 2 2.5

−1

0

1

2

3

4

5

AE

AR

AT

AU

BE BM

CA

CH

CL

CN

DE

DK ES

FI

FR

GB

GR

HK

ID

IE

IL IN

IS

IT

JO

JP

KR

KW

KY

LU

MX

MY

NL

NO

NZ

OM

PH

PT

SA

SE

SG

TH

TN

TR

TW

US

VG

ZA

ln(s)

ln(η′)

Figure 12: Map of market value: local dispersion of control, s, is plotted against global concen-

tration of market value, η′, for 48 countries.

In Fig. 12 the logarithmic values of sand η′are depicted. η′is a global variable related to

the (normalized) percentage of shareholders in the backbone (an emergent quantity). It hence

measures the concentration of value in a market, as a low number means that very few share-

holders are able to control 80% of the market value. What we concluded in the last paragraph

for control is also true for the market value: the more the control is locally dispersed, the higher

the concentration of value that lies in the hands of very few controlling shareholders and vice

versa.

We realize that the two ﬁgures discussed in this section open many questions. Why are there

outliers such as JP in Fig. 11 and VG in Fig. 12? What does it mean to group countries according

to their s,h, and η′coordinates and what does proximity imply? What are the implications for

the individual countries? We hope to address such and similar questions in future work.

V.2 Seat of power

Having identiﬁed important shareholders in the global markets, it is now also possible to address

the following questions. Who holds the power in an increasingly globalized world? How important

are individual people compared to the sphere of inﬂuence of multinational corporations? How

eminent is the inﬂuence of the ﬁnancial sector? By looking in detail at the identity of the power

holders featured in the backbones, we address these issues next.

If one focuses on how often the same power holders appear in the backbones of the 48 countries

analyzed, it is possible to identify the global power holders. Following is a top-ten list, comprised

of the company’s name, activity, country the headquarter is based in, and ranked according to

the number of times it is present in diﬀerent countries’ backbones: the Capital Group Compa-

nies (investment management, US, 36), Fidelity Management & Research (investment products

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Physical Review E 80 (2009)

and services, US, 32), Barclays PLC (ﬁnancial services provider, GB, 26), Franklin Resources

(investment management, US, 25), AXA (insurance company, FR, 22), JPMorgan Chase &

Co. (ﬁnancial services provider, US, 19), Dimensional Fund Advisors (investment management,

US, 15), Merrill Lynch & Co. (investment management, US, 14), Wellington Management Co.

(investment management, US, 14), and UBS (ﬁnancial services provider, CH, 12).

Next to the dominance of US American companies we ﬁnd: Barclays PLC (GB), AXA (FR) and

UBS (CH), Deutsche Bank (DE), Brandes Investment Partners (CA), Soci´et´e G´en´erale (FR),

Credit Suisse Group (CH), Schroders PLC (GB), and Allianz (DE) in the top 21 positions.

The government of Singapore is at rank 25. HSBC Holdings PLC (HK/GB), the world’s largest

banking group, only appears at position 26. In addition, large multinational corporations outside

of the ﬁnance and insurance industry do not act as prominent shareholders and only appear in

their own national countries’ backbones as controlled stocks. For instance, Exxon Mobil, Daimler

Chrysler, Ford Motor Co., Siemens, and Unilever.

Individual people do not appear as multinational power holders very often. In the US backbone,

we ﬁnd one person ranked at ninth position: Warren E. Buﬀet. William Henry Gates III is next,

at rank 26. In DE the family Porsche/Piech and in FR the family Bettencourt are power-holders

in the top ten. For the tax-haven KY one ﬁnds Kao H. Min (who is placed at number 140 in

the Forbes 400 list) in the top ranks.

The prevalence of multinational ﬁnancial corporations in the list above is perhaps not very

surprising. For instance, Capital Group Companies is one of the world’s largest investment

management organizations with assets under management in excess of one trillion USD. However,

it is an interesting and novel observation that all the above-mentioned corporations appear as

prominent controlling shareholders simultaneously in many countries. We are aware that ﬁnancial

institutions such as mutual funds may not always seek to exert overt control. This is argued, for

instance, for some of the largest US mutual funds when operating in the US [21], on the basis of

their propensity to vote against the management (although, the same mutual funds are described

as exerting their power when operating in Europe). However, to our knowledge, there are no

systematic studies about the control of ﬁnancial institutions over their owned companies world

wide. To conclude, one can interpret our quantitative measure of control as potential power

(namely, the probability of achieving one’s own interest against the opposition of other actors

[41]). Given these premises, we cannot exclude that the top shareholders having vast potential

power do not globally exert it in some way.

VI Summary and Conclusion

We have developed a methodology to identify and extract the backbone of complex networks that

are comprised of weighted and directed links and nodes to which a scalar quantity is associated.

We interpret such networks as systems in which mass is created at some nodes and transferred to

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Backbone of complex networks of corporations: The ﬂow of control

Physical Review E 80 (2009)

the nodes upstream. The amount of mass ﬂowing along a link from node ito node jis given by

the scalar quantity associated with the node jtimes the weight of the link, Wij vj. The backbone

corresponds to the subnetwork in which a preassigned fraction of the total ﬂow of the system is

transferred.

Applied to ownership networks, the procedure identiﬁes the backbone as the subnetwork where

most of the control and the economic value resides. In the analysis the nodes are associated

with nontopological state variables given by the market capitalization value of the ﬁrms, and

the indirect control along all ownership pathways is fully accounted for. We ranked the share-

holders according to the value they can control, and we constructed the subset of shareholders

which collectively control a given fraction of the economic value in the market. In essence, our

algorithm for extracting the backbone ampliﬁes subtle eﬀects and unveils key structures. We

further introduced some measures aimed at classifying the backbone of the diﬀerent markets in

terms of local and global concentration of control and value. We ﬁnd that each level of detail in

the analysis uncovers features in the ownership networks. Incorporating the direction of links in

the study reveals bow-tie structures in the network. Including value allows us to identify who is

holding the power in the global stock markets.

With respect to other studies in the economics literature, next to proposing a model for es-

timating control from ownership, we are able to recover previously observed patterns in the

data, namely, the frequency of widely held ﬁrms in the various countries studied. Indeed, it

has been known for over 75 years that the Anglo-Saxon countries have the highest occurrence

of widely held ﬁrms [42]. The statement that the control of corporations is dispersed among

many shareholders invokes the intuition that there exists a multitude of owners that only hold

a small amount of shares in a few companies. However, in contrast to such intuition, our main

ﬁnding is that a local dispersion of control is associated with a global concentration of control

and value. This means that only a small elite of shareholders controls a large fraction of the

stock market, without ever having been previously systematically reported on. Some authors

have suggested such a result by observing that a few big US mutual funds managing personal

pension plans have become the biggest owners of corporate America since the 1990s [21]. On

the other hand, in countries with local concentration of control (mostly observed in European

states), the shareholders tend to only hold control over a single corporation, resulting in the

dispersion of global control and value. Finally, we also observe that the US ﬁnancial sector holds

the seat of power at an international level. It will remain to be seen, if the continued unfolding

of the current ﬁnancial crisis will tip this balance of power as the US ﬁnancial landscape faces

a fundamental transformation in its wake.

Acknowledgements

We would like to express our special gratitude to G. Caldarelli and D. Garlaschelli who provided

invaluable advice to this research especially in its early stages. We would also like to thank F.

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J.B. Glattfelder and S. Battiston:

Backbone of complex networks of corporations: The ﬂow of control

Physical Review E 80 (2009)

Schweitzer and M. Napoletano for fruitful discussions. Finally, we are very grateful for the advice

of G. Davis regarding the relevance of our work with respect to issues in corporate governance.

Appendix A Analyzed Countries

Data from the following countries was used: United Arab Emirates (AE), Argentina (AR),

Austria (AT), Australia (AU), Belgium (BE), Bermuda (BM), Canada (CA), Switzerland (CH),

Chile (CL), China (CN), Germany (DE), Denmark (DK), Spain (ES), Finland (FI), France (FR),

United Kingdom (GB), Greece (GR), Hong Kong (HK), Indonesia (ID), Ireland (IE), Israel (IL),

India (IN), Iceland (IS), Italy (IT), Jordan (JO), Japan (JP), South Korea (KR), Kuwait (KW),

Cayman Islands (KY), Luxembourg (LU), Mexico (MX), Malaysia (MY), Netherlands (NL),

Norway (NO), New Zealand (NZ), Oman (OM), Philippines (PH), Portugal (PT), Saudi Arabia

(SA), Sweden (SE), Singapore (SG), Thailand (TH), Tunisia (TN), Turkey (TR), Taiwan (TW),

USA (US), Virgin Islands (VG), and South Africa (ZA).

Countries are identiﬁed by their two letter ISO 3166–1 alpha-2 codes (given in the parenthesis

above).

Appendix B Ownership vs. Control or the Interpretation of Hij

While ownership is an objective quantity (the percentage of shares owned), control (reﬂected in

voting rights) can only be estimated. In this appendix we provide a motivation for our proposed

model of control Hij (deﬁned in Sec. III.2) from an economics point of view and discuss how

our measure overcomes some of the limitations of previous models.

There is a great freedom in how corporations are allowed to map percentages of ownership

in their equity capital (also referred to as cash-ﬂow rights) into voting rights assigned to the

holders at shareholders meetings. However, empirical studies indicate that in many countries the

corporations tend not to exploit all the opportunities allowed by national laws to skew voting

rights. Instead, they adopt the so-called one-share-one-vote principle which states that ownership

percentages yield identical percentages of voting rights [31, 43].

It is however still not obvious how to compute control from the knowledge of the voting rights.

As an example, some simple models introducing a ﬁxed threshold for control have been proposed

(with threshold values of 10% and 20% [31] next to a more conservative value of 50% [44]). These

models can easily be extended to incorporate indirect paths of control vie the integrated model

of Sec. III.4.

Given any model for control, there is always a drawback in estimating real-world control or power:

shareholders do not only act as individuals but can collaborate in shareholding coalitions and give

rise to so-called voting blocks. The theory of political voting games in cooperative game theory

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has been applied to the problem of shareholder voting in the form of so-called power indices [45].

However, the employment of power indices for measuring shareholder voting behavior has failed

to ﬁnd widespread acceptance due to computational, inconsistency and conceptual issues [45].

The so-called degree of control αwas introduced in [46] as a probabilistic voting model mea-

suring the degree of control of a block of large shareholdings as the probability of it attracting

majority support in a voting game. Without going into details, the idea is as follows. Consider a

shareholder iwith ownership Wij in the stock j. Then the control of idepends not only on the

value in absolute terms of Wij, but also on how dispersed the remaining shares are (measured

by the Herﬁndahl index). The more they tend to be dispersed, the higher the value of α. So even

a shareholder with a small Wij can obtain a high degree of control. The assumptions underlying

this probabilistic voting model correspond to those behind the power indices. However, αsuﬀers

from drawbacks. It gives a minimum cut-oﬀ value of 0.5 (even for arbitrarily small sharehold-

ings) and hence Eq. (7) is violated, meaning that it cannot be utilized in an integrated model.

The computation of αcan become intractable in situations with many shareholders.

To summarize, our measure of control extends existing integrated models using ﬁxed thresholds

by incorporating insights from probabilistic voting models (the analytical expressions of Hij

and αshare very similar behavior), and, furthermore, ˜

Hij can be computed eﬃciently for large

networks.

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