When a Company is Bigger Than its Country

Novo Nordisk is worth more than home country's Denmark annual GDP.

Bloomberg (“The Ozempic Effect: How a Weight Loss Wonder Drug Gobbled Up an Entire Economy“):

There is no escaping Ozempic and Wegovy. The diabetes and obesity drugs are a global phenomenon. They’ve won over the rich and famous, generated billions in sales and blown open a new market for weight loss drugs, which Goldman Sachs estimates will reach $100 billion a year by 2030.

The development of semaglutide, the key ingredient in the medicines, has also transformed their maker, Novo Nordisk, into Europe’s most valuable company, with profound implications for its home country of Denmark. Novo’s market capitalization of more than $570 billion is bigger than the Danish economy. Its philanthropic foundation is now the world’s largest, with assets twice those of the Gates Foundation. The drugmaker’s income tax bill in Denmark last year was $2.3 billion, and its massive investments and heightened production helped the domestic economy expand almost 2% — more than four times the EU average. That drove record government spending on defense, the green transition and support for Ukraine.

That a drug company’s valuation is higher than Denmarks’s GDP is just staggering. Granting that Denmark is a small country whose population is roughly that of Wisconsin, it’s still the 37th largest economy on the planet by nominal GDP.

Without Novo’s contribution, the Danish economy would have stagnated.

Little in Denmark can escape Novo’s gravitational pull. Its agenda influences educational and research priorities, and politicians consider the company’s perspective before making decisions on immigration policy or new infrastructure development. The drugmaker has created thousands of jobs in the six-million-person country — and more will come as Novo expands across multiple locations — but even citizens with no ties to the firm benefit from its gains. Danish pension funds are flush from record returns on Novo shares, and mortgages are cheaper as booming diabetes drug exports have forced Denmark’s central bank to keep interest rates low.

Novo’s enormous scale in Denmark also comes with risks, both for the company and its home market. Its every move is met with media scrutiny, making it especially vulnerable to public backlash and regulatory shifts. And a strategic misstep by the company would have a trickle-down impact on public coffers, scientific research and even jobs for the next generation of Danish university graduates.

This puts Denmark in a company with petrostates and others that are dependent on a single resource. Then again, even if Novo does everything else right, it’ll lose intellectual property rights to semaglutide by the end of 2031—possibly much sooner if various challenges to its patents succeed.

While Novo can’t anticipate how its decisions might affect Denmark, Chief Executive Officer Lars Fruergaard Jorgensen said in an interview, he’s also realistic about the drugmaker’s potential impact in its home country and elsewhere. “When you have superpowers,” he said, citing Swedish children’s story Pippi Longstocking, “you have super responsibility.”

I was curious whether Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben ripped off Pippi Longstocking or vice versa. The latter character predates the former in print by almost two decades and had been translated into English for more than a decade before the publication of Amazing Fantasy #15. Then again, literally every reference to Pippi Longstocking and “super responsibility” on the Internet seems to be from this article.

Such outsized influence can be a liability in a culture where humility is so deeply rooted that an unofficial social code exists to discourage flashy displays of success. And Novo has taken measures to downplay its stature: When the company rented Copenhagen’s famed Tivoli Gardens amusement park in September for a private two-day staff party, the drugmaker asked guests not to post pictures on social media for fear of repercussions, according to local media.

And this week, following months of debate over rising public spending on Novo medication, the firm quietly reduced prices for Ozempic in Denmark by nearly a third.

For now, Novo has an almost iconic status amongst Danes — policymakers included. There is an “extreme political attentiveness” to Novo, said Christoph Houman Ellersgaard, an associate professor at the Copenhagen Business School who researches Danish elites. Yet Novo is in a delicate position. If it continues to expand, so too will the power and influence it exerts in Denmark.And if it stumbles or falls, the country’s economy and society will feel the effects.

Economists call this the “Nokia risk,” referencing the Finnish telecommunications giant whose collapse, beginning in the first decade of the 2000s, dragged down that country’s entire economy. Not only did the then-phonemaker’s decline wipe out thousands of jobs, but the ripple effects extended to Finnish universities, businesses, and the public sector, all of which relied on its success.

I suppose you’d rather have the problem than not. But, rather obviously, more diversity in the economy would be preferable.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Argon says:

    So, Novo is the ABBA of 2024.

  2. DrDaveT says:

    The latter character predates the former in print by almost two decades and has been translated into English for more than a decade.

    I’m confused. I was reading Pippi Longstocking stories in English in the 1970s.

  3. Kathy says:

    That a drug company’s valuation is higher than Denmarks’s GDP is just staggering.

    IMO, Greenspan was right about the irrational exuberance of the stock market, but simply off by a couple of decades.

  4. James Joyner says:

    @DrDaveT: Typo. Should be “had” rather than “has.” It was already available in English in 1950, a dozen years before Amazing Fantasy #15.

  5. Michael Reynolds says:

    I use a similar drug, Mounjaro from Eli Lilly – my doctor thinks it has some benefits over Ozempic. But whichever, it’s pretty amazing stuff. I don’t love the needle in the ass, but my wife, who administers it seems to almost enjoy. . . hmmm.

    A cure for obesity is not a small thing. Maybe it’s not a cure for cancer, but it will save a hell of a lot of lives and improve a hell of a lot more. Right on, Big Pharma!

  6. The Lounsbury says:

    That a drug company’s valuation is higher than Denmarks’s GDP is just staggering.

    No, no. no…. it is not staggering it is nonsense from misunderstanding. This is journalistic innumeracy.

    GDP is a time-flow measure, typically yearly, and is the measture of Gross Domestic Product – the value in theory of goods and services, if you are going to compare GDP, the data point is Gross REVENUE, not Market Cap. Market cap is at least in theory an asset valuation of what the current market valuatin of current assets and current all expected cash flows (notably net cash flows) to owners.

    There is no comparability.

    Novo Nordisk Gross Revenue – which we can roughly compare to GDP (not per se the most relevant thing to do but at least you are comparing a fruit to a fruit) is 2023 34.4 lbn USD. (w 39% growth rate, very good obviously, gross of course)

    @Kathy: there is nothing irrational about the subject, as Apples and Carrots are being compared.

    BTW if you were to do a market cap type calcuation on a country, one would do it on a current assets plus expected cash flows (so … although abusive and borderline nonsensical, GDP, although perhaps GNP arguably better) out for whatever one’s preferred horizon (normally on a discounted basis it becomes silly to go beyond ten or so years depending on the concept [infra different than say service co]) – as if one were “buying” an entire country one would

    Of course the entire excercise is silly and nonsencial but at least would be semi-coherent in metrics term.

  7. Lounsbury says:

    @The Lounsbury: As a comparator BTW, Danish GDP in USD terms is 400 billion odd. That is obviously more than 10x the Gross Revenue of Novo Nordisk. So one can easily take a guess at a market type value of Denmark (assets and revenues).

    (this all quite separate from the reality that Novo Nordisk revenues are an input into Danish yearly GDP)

  8. gVOR10 says:

    @The Lounsbury: Beat me by that much. Having been trained as an engineer, the sloppy way finance people treat units makes me crazy. Market cap is in dollars. GDP is dollars per year. Comparing one to the other is like saying the 225 miles from DC to NYC is bigger than the 70 miles/hour speed limit. Economists are nearly as bad, and don’t get me started on journalists.

  9. James Joyner says:

    @The Lounsbury: @gVOR10: Oh, I definitely get that the total value of the company and a country’s annual GDP aren’t the same thing. Still, Microsoft’s market valuation is $3.13 Trillion and Apple’s is $2.65 Trillion; the US GDP is $25.44 Trillion. So, the two largest companies on the planet combined are still small fraction of their host nation’s GDP.

  10. Lounsbury says:

    @James Joyner: no, no they are not. This is in the realm of utterly wrong.

    GDP is a Flow measure. Market cap is NOT a Flow measure but an asset value measure.

    If you are going to make the comparison it is to the Gross Revenue. Not market cap.

    Gvor8 has evoked an analogy.

    Perhaps even more bluntly, this is like light years being confused as a time measure….

  11. Lounsbury says:

    Sorry, 10 not 8….. didn’t mean to discount, so to speak.

  12. Kathy says:


    Well, it would take 3 hours and some minutes to traverse a distance of 225 miles going at 70 mph. Whereas it would take only 1 hour to traverse a distance of 70 miles at 70 mph.

    3+hours > 1 hour

    So there! 🙂

    (Proving sophistry is a seductive, rationalizing temptress).

  13. Slugger says:

    The Novo>Denmark statement is based on improper measurements as others have commented. The truly interesting thing is the medical impact of these medications. Some of these impacts are here and now benefits, some are potential effects, and some will turn out to be not useful. A lot of medications go through an evolution from novel chemical to good for these conditions to greatest thing EVER to OMG poison and settle as beneficial in these specific conditions. Ozempic seems to be in the greatest thing EVER stage, and the stock price reflects that. There will come a time when Ozempic’s contribution to Denmark’s economy will be the same as Havarti’s. If Novo is well run, they are using the income to look for the next big thing.

  14. gVOR10 says:


    Perhaps even more bluntly, this is like light years being confused as a time measure….

    Like making the Kessel run in 12 parsecs.

    (Before Kathy comes after me, I googled to verify the quote and found fan site hand waving about it being a 20 parsec distance and Solo found a wormhole or something shortcutting it to 12. Looks awfully after the fact. I’m assuming the fact was, like Dr. Brown’s “jigawatts”, they just didn’t know better.” And don’t bring up that we’re traveling through time at one light-year per year.)

  15. Kathy says:


    (Before Kathy comes after me, I googled to verify the quote and found fan site hand waving about it..)

    They made a whole so-so movie out of that line.

    There’s a cycling record call the Hour Record. It’s how much distance a cyclist can cover in one hour.

    The SW fanboys could have gone for something similar, saying Solo was able to travel three parsecs in one hour, at the anual Kessel Run. This might even be impressive depending on what the old record had been.

    Of course, there’d have been no movie made of that (which might even have been a good thing).

  16. steve says:

    What is true of Novo and Denmark is true of many small towns in the US that are dominated by one employer. People go out of their way to cater to that company and the management people (and their kids) fo that company can get away with nearly anything in that town.


  17. Just nutha ignint cracker says:


    What is true of Novo and Denmark is true of many small towns in the US that are dominated by one employer.

    Or even a large city. When the SST contract was cancelled and Boeing laid off thousands of people, the billboards read “Would the last person leaving Seattle please turn off the lights?” as the school district started buying the contracts of senior teachers and building administrators in an early retirement program to cut costs, the first food bank was opened, and other effects rippled through the community. By the time my classmates were graduating with their teaching certificates, Seattle had its 3rd or 4th levy failure and IIRC, the district cut certificated staffing by over 50% for the following school year. (And my parents stopped criticizing my decision to leave the school of education 2 years earlier.)


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