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Ranked: The World’s Most Competitive Countries (2019-2023)

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most competitive countries for businesses

Ranking the Most Competitive Countries Around the World

Just as a well-made ship needs fair weather for a smooth voyage, businesses need a supportive ecosystem to start and stay successful.

Rankings for the most competitive countries attempt to quantify this support directly, seeing which economies have the best frameworks for business to thrive. Examining how the rankings change over time can also tell us a lot about how countries are progressing relative to others.

In the above graphic, Julie Peasley uses the World Competitiveness Ranking report by the International Institute for Management Development (IMD) to chart the top 20 most competitive countries between 2019 and 2023.

How is Business Competitiveness Measured?

IMD examines countries on the basis of four metrics across multiple sub-factors:

  • Economic performance:
    Domestic economy, international trade, international investment, employment, prices
  • Government efficiency:
    Public finance, tax policy, institutional framework, business legislation, societal framework
  • Business efficiency:
    Productivity & efficiency, labor market, finance, management practices, attitudes & values
  • Infrastructure:
    Basic infrastructure, technological infrastructure, scientific infrastructure, health & environment, education

These metrics are scored on a mix of hard statistics, surveys from partner institutes, and supplementary data.

Which Countries are the Best and Worst for Business?

Denmark holds on to the top spot as the most business-friendly country in 2023, after it ranked number one for the first time in 2022. The Scandinavian country has been a perennial top 10 performer since 2018 but really began its ascent to the summit in the last four years.

The country excels in the categories of business efficiency, government efficiency, and infrastructure metrics, despite comparatively average economic performance next to some of its geographic peers.

Rank (2023)Country2019202020212022
1๐Ÿ‡ฉ๐Ÿ‡ฐ Denmark8231
2๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ช Ireland7121311
3๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ญ Switzerland4312
4๐Ÿ‡ธ๐Ÿ‡ฌ Singapore1153
5๐Ÿ‡ณ๐Ÿ‡ฑ Netherlands6446
6๐Ÿ‡น๐Ÿ‡ผ Taiwan161187
7๐Ÿ‡ญ๐Ÿ‡ฐ Hong Kong2575
8๐Ÿ‡ธ๐Ÿ‡ช Sweden9624
9๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ U.S.3101010
10๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡ช UAE59912
11๐Ÿ‡ซ๐Ÿ‡ฎ Finland1513118
12๐Ÿ‡ถ๐Ÿ‡ฆ Qatar10141718
13๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ช Belgium27252421
14๐Ÿ‡ณ๐Ÿ‡ด Norway11769
15๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ฆ Canada1381414
16๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ธ Iceland20212116
17๐Ÿ‡ธ๐Ÿ‡ฆ Saudi Arabia26243224
18๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ฟ Czech Republic33333426
19๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡บ Australia18182219
20๐Ÿ‡ฑ๐Ÿ‡บ Luxembourg12151213
21๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ณ China14201617
22๐Ÿ‡ฉ๐Ÿ‡ช Germany17171515
23๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ฑ Israel24262725
24๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡น Austria19161920
25๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ญ BahrainN/AN/AN/A30
26๐Ÿ‡ช๐Ÿ‡ช Estonia35282622
27๐Ÿ‡ฒ๐Ÿ‡พ Malaysia22272532
28๐Ÿ‡ฐ๐Ÿ‡ท South Korea28232327
29๐Ÿ‡ฌ๐Ÿ‡ง UK23191823
30๐Ÿ‡น๐Ÿ‡ญ Thailand25292833
31๐Ÿ‡ณ๐Ÿ‡ฟ New Zealand21222031
32๐Ÿ‡ฑ๐Ÿ‡น Lithuania29313029
33๐Ÿ‡ซ๐Ÿ‡ท France31322928
34๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ฉ Indonesia32403744
35๐Ÿ‡ฏ๐Ÿ‡ต Japan30343134
36๐Ÿ‡ช๐Ÿ‡ธ Spain36363936
37๐Ÿ‡ฐ๐Ÿ‡ฟ Kazakhstan34423543
38๐Ÿ‡ฐ๐Ÿ‡ผ KuwaitN/AN/AN/AN/A
39๐Ÿ‡ต๐Ÿ‡น Portugal39373642
40๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ณ India43434337
41๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡น Italy44444141
42๐Ÿ‡ธ๐Ÿ‡ฎ Slovenia37354038
43๐Ÿ‡ต๐Ÿ‡ฑ Poland38394750
44๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ฑ Chile42384445
45๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡พ Cyprus41303340
46๐Ÿ‡ญ๐Ÿ‡บ Hungary47474239
47๐Ÿ‡น๐Ÿ‡ท Tรผrkiye51465152
48๐Ÿ‡ท๐Ÿ‡ด Romania49514851
49๐Ÿ‡ฌ๐Ÿ‡ท Greece58494647
50๐Ÿ‡ญ๐Ÿ‡ท Croatia60605946
51๐Ÿ‡ฑ๐Ÿ‡ป Latvia40413835
52๐Ÿ‡ต๐Ÿ‡ญ Philippines46455248
53๐Ÿ‡ธ๐Ÿ‡ฐ Slovak Republic53575049
54๐Ÿ‡ฏ๐Ÿ‡ด Jordan57584956
55๐Ÿ‡ต๐Ÿ‡ช Peru55525854
56๐Ÿ‡ฒ๐Ÿ‡ฝ Mexico50535555
57๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ฌ Bulgaria48485353
58๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ด Colombia52545657
59๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ผ BotswanaN/AN/A6158
60๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ท Brazil59565759
61๐Ÿ‡ฟ๐Ÿ‡ฆ South Africa56596260
62๐Ÿ‡ฒ๐Ÿ‡ณ Mongolia62616061
63๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡ท Argentina61626362
64๐Ÿ‡ป๐Ÿ‡ช Venezuela63636463

Close behind in second place is Ireland, jumping five spots since 2019. The countryโ€™s strong economic performance helped it break into the upper echelon after bouncing around the top-15 rankings in the last few years.

Ranked third is Switzerland which has been in the top five since 2018, and reached first place in 2021. While the country scores well on several key indicators, it loses points on subfactors like the lack of business development and IPO offerings.

Singapore, which also was previously ranked as the most competitive country in 2019 and 2020, secured fourth place in 2023. In contrast to Denmark and Switzerland, the Asian financial heavyweight scores well on economic performance but loses ground on government efficiency.

At the bottom of the list, Venezuela, Argentina, and Mongolia face significant challenges in business competitiveness in 2023. These countries suffer from a trifecta of poor economic performance, low business and government efficiency, and substandard infrastructure, hindering business growth and development. Macro developments also play a key factor in their fortunes. For example, Mongolia has suffered in the aftermath of sanctions on Russia, a key trade partner.

Changing Rankings for the Most Competitive Countries

Though some countries have placed consistently in the rankings of the most competitive countries, there are also countries that have seen more noteworthy fluctuations.

China and Germany were both in the top 20 rankings pretty consistently until 2022, but both fell just short of that benchmark in the 2023 rankings.

And the U.S. is still in the top 10 but has dropped six spots compared to other economies in the last five years. The countryโ€™s economic might is unimpeachable, but rankings slipped in the business landscape and government efficiency metrics.

Here are the five-year changes in rankings for all countries scored in the IMD report, sorted from biggest increase to largest decrease:

CountryChange (2019-2023)Rank (2023)
๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ฟ Czech Republic+1518
๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ช Belgium+1413
๐Ÿ‡น๐Ÿ‡ผ Taiwan+106
๐Ÿ‡ญ๐Ÿ‡ท Croatia+1050
๐Ÿ‡ธ๐Ÿ‡ฆ Saudi Arabia+917
๐Ÿ‡ช๐Ÿ‡ช Estonia+926
๐Ÿ‡ฌ๐Ÿ‡ท Greece+949
๐Ÿ‡ฉ๐Ÿ‡ฐ Denmark+71
๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ช Ireland+52
๐Ÿ‡ซ๐Ÿ‡ฎ Finland+411
๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ธ Iceland+416
๐Ÿ‡น๐Ÿ‡ท Tรผrkiye447
๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ณ India340
๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡น Italy341
๐Ÿ‡ฏ๐Ÿ‡ด Jordan354
๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ญ Switzerland+13
๐Ÿ‡ณ๐Ÿ‡ฑ Netherlands+15
๐Ÿ‡ธ๐Ÿ‡ช Sweden+18
๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ฑ Israel+123
๐Ÿ‡ญ๐Ÿ‡บ Hungary+146
๐Ÿ‡ท๐Ÿ‡ด Romania+148
๐Ÿ‡ฐ๐Ÿ‡ท South Korea028
๐Ÿ‡ช๐Ÿ‡ธ Spain036
๐Ÿ‡ต๐Ÿ‡น Portugal039
๐Ÿ‡ธ๐Ÿ‡ฐ Slovak Republic053
๐Ÿ‡ต๐Ÿ‡ช Peru055
๐Ÿ‡ฒ๐Ÿ‡ณ Mongolia062
๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡บ Australia-119
๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ท Brazil-160
๐Ÿ‡ป๐Ÿ‡ช Venezuela-164
๐Ÿ‡ถ๐Ÿ‡ฆ Qatar-212
๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ฆ Canada-215
๐Ÿ‡ซ๐Ÿ‡ท France-233
๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ฉ Indonesia-234
๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ฑ Chile-244
๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡ท Argentina-263
๐Ÿ‡ธ๐Ÿ‡ฌ Singapore-34
๐Ÿ‡ณ๐Ÿ‡ด Norway-314
๐Ÿ‡ฑ๐Ÿ‡น Lithuania-332
๐Ÿ‡ฐ๐Ÿ‡ฟ Kazakhstan-337
๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡พ Cyprus-445
๐Ÿ‡ญ๐Ÿ‡ฐ Hong Kong-57
๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡ช UAE-510
๐Ÿ‡ฉ๐Ÿ‡ช Germany-522
๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡น Austria-524
๐Ÿ‡ฒ๐Ÿ‡พ Malaysia-527
๐Ÿ‡น๐Ÿ‡ญ Thailand-530
๐Ÿ‡ฏ๐Ÿ‡ต Japan-535
๐Ÿ‡ธ๐Ÿ‡ฎ Slovenia-542
๐Ÿ‡ต๐Ÿ‡ฑ Poland-543
๐Ÿ‡ฟ๐Ÿ‡ฆ South Africa-561
๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ U.S.-69
๐Ÿ‡ฌ๐Ÿ‡ง UK-629
๐Ÿ‡ต๐Ÿ‡ญ Philippines-652
๐Ÿ‡ฒ๐Ÿ‡ฝ Mexico-656
๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ด Colombia-658
๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ณ China-721
๐Ÿ‡ฑ๐Ÿ‡บ Luxembourg-820
๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ฌ Bulgaria-957
๐Ÿ‡ณ๐Ÿ‡ฟ New Zealand-1031
๐Ÿ‡ฑ๐Ÿ‡ป Latvia-1151
๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ญ BahrainN/A25
๐Ÿ‡ฐ๐Ÿ‡ผ KuwaitN/A38
๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ผ BotswanaN/A59

The Czech Republic and Belgium have made huge strides in improving their business environments since 2019, moving up 15 and 14 spots in the rankings over the last half a decade, respectively.

Saudi Arabia has also been making steady gains thanks to a series of pro-business reforms in recent years. Together with the Czech Republic, 2023 marked the first year both countries cracked the top 20 list for the most competitive countries.

On the other hand, Latvia and New Zealand have slipped the most in competitiveness, dropping 11 and 10 spots respectively. Latvia and its Baltic neighbors are dealing with a tough geopolitical environment and risk of a recession with instability in the region, while New Zealand was noted as dealing with both a brain drain and a lack of resiliency to climate change.

An Examination of Business Competitiveness

Business competitiveness is one of many measurements for country performance, including gross domestic product (GDP), income, livability, and even happiness rankings.

And as with other measurements, it is important to consider the nuances and disparities among countries when applying a one-size-fits-all ranking system.

For instance, the most populous countries rank comparatively poorer. The U.S. ranks #2 when only considering countries with a population greater than 20 million, and China is the most competitive country with a GDP per capita of less than $20,000.

And while criticisms about the subjectivity of these rankings may be valid, looking at these kinds of breakdowns can bring unique insights to broad sociological questions, and be used as a tool to help policymakers.

Where Does This Data Come From?

Source: The International Institute for Management Developmentโ€™s World Competitiveness Booklet 2023.

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This article was published as a part of Visual Capitalist's Creator Program, which features data-driven visuals from some of our favorite Creators around the world.

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The 50 Best One-Year Returns on the S&P 500 (1980-2022)

The highest one-year return among the top S&P 500 stocks from 1980 to 2022 was a staggering 2,620%. Which stocks top the ranks?

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Text says "The top S&P 500 Stocks by Annual Return 1980-2022". Bubbles are sized by annual return with company logo, rank number, and the annual return labelled. The #1 stock bubble shows but the name is obscured.

The Top S&P 500 Stocks by Annual Returns

The average annual return of the S&P 500 was 10% from 1980-2022, excluding dividends. Of course, there are some companies that deliver much higher returns in any given year.

In this graphic using data from S&P Dow Jones Indices, we explore the top S&P 500 stocks with the best single year returns over the last four decades.

Ranking the Top S&P 500 Stocks

In order to find the top gainers, S&P took the top 10 best-performing stocks each year and then narrowed that list down to the top 50 overall. They ranked the top S&P 500 stocks by price returns, meaning that no dividends or stock distributions were included.

The best gains were clustered in a few select years, including the 1999 dot-com boom, the 2003 stock market rally, and the 2009 recovery from the Global Financial Crisis. None of the biggest gains happened in 2021 or 2022.

RankCompanySectorReturnYear
1QualcommInformation Technology2620%1999
2TeslaConsumer Discretionary743%2020
3DSC CommunicationsCommunication Services468%1992
4Coleco IndustriesConsumer Discretionary435%1982
5AvayaInformation Technology428%2003
6ChryslerConsumer Discretionary426%1982
7XL Capital (Axa XL)Financials395%2009
8Tenet HealthcareHealthcare369%2009
9DynegyUtilities361%2000
10Advanced Micro DevicesInformation Technology348%2009
11SprintCommunication Services343%1999
12FordConsumer Discretionary337%2009
13NEXTEL CommunicationsCommunication Services336%1999
14LSI LogicInformation Technology319%1999
15NVIDIAInformation Technology308%2001
16Nortel NetworksCommunication Services304%1999
17EtsyConsumer Discretionary302%2020
18Genworth FinancialFinancials301%2009
19Micron TechnologyInformation Technology300%2009
20NetFlixCommunication Services298%2013
21OracleInformation Technology290%1999
22Western DigitalInformation Technology286%2009
23Network Appliance (NetApp)Information Technology270%1999
24Data GeneralInformation Technology267%1991
25YahooCommunication Services265%1999
26Williams CompaniesEnergy264%2003
27NovellInformation Technology264%1991
28DynegyUtilities263%2003
29Sun MicrosystemsInformation Technology262%1999
30PMC-SierraInformation Technology262%2003
31Advanced Micro DevicesInformation Technology259%1991
32DellInformation Technology248%1998
33Global MarineEnergy247%1980
34Micron TechnologyInformation Technology243%2013
35Best BuyConsumer Discretionary237%2013
36ReebokConsumer Discretionary234%2000
37Freeport-McMoRanMaterials229%2009
38Biomet (Zimmer Biomet)Healthcare226%1991
39NVIDIAInformation Technology224%2016
40GapConsumer Discretionary223%1991
41NetFlixCommunication Services219%2010
42Fleetwood Enterprises (Fleetwood RV)Consumer Discretionary217%1982
43National SemiconductorInformation Technology217%1999
44DellInformation Technology216%1997
45Tandy Corp (RadioShack)Information Technology216%1980
46NovellInformation Technology215%2003
47CorningInformation Technology215%2003
48CB Richard Ellis (CBRE)Real Estate214%2009
49AES CorpUtilities213%2003
50ExpediaConsumer Discretionary212%2009

Qualcomm was by far the top-performer in any one calendar year window. The company had key patents for Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) technology, which enabled fast wireless internet access and became the basis for 3G networks.

Its stock took off in 1999 as it shed less profitable business lines, resolved a patent dispute with competitor Ericsson, and joined the S&P 500 Index. At the time, CNN reported that one lucky investor who heard about Qualcomm from an investment-banker-turned-rabbi earned $17 millionโ€”roughly $30 million in todayโ€™s dollars.

The most recent stocks to make the rankings were both from 2020: well-known Tesla (#2) and lesser-known online marketplace Etsy (#17), which saw sales from independent creators surge during the early COVID-19 pandemic. The dollar value of items sold on Etsy more than doubled from $5.3 billion in 2019 to $10.3 billion in 2020, with mask sales accounting for 7% of the total.

Biggest Gainers in Each Sector

While information technology stocks made up nearly half of the list, there is representation from nine of the 11 S&P 500 sectors. No companies from the Industrials or Consumer Staples sectors made it into the ranks of the top S&P 500 stocks by annual returns.

Below, we show the stock with the best annual return for each sector.

Bubbles sized by annual return show the top S&P 500 stocks by annual gain for each stock market sector. Tesla is the top Consumer Discretionary stock with an annual return of 743% in 2020.

Tesla was the top-performing Consumer Discretionary stock on the list. After meeting the requirement of four consecutive quarters of positive earnings, it joined the S&P 500 Index on December 21, 2020. The companyโ€™s performance was boosted by the announcement that it would be included in the S&P 500, along with strong performance in China, and general EV buzz as environmental regulations tightened worldwide.

In the realm of Communication Services, DSC Communications saw a sizable return in 1992. The telecommunications equipment company had contracts with major companies such as Bell and Motorola. Alcatel-Lucent (then Alcatel), a French producer of mobile phones, purchased DSC Communications in 1998.

Serial Success Stories

Itโ€™s impressive to make the list of the top S&P 500 stocks by calendar returns once, but there are seven companies that have done it twice.

Some stocks saw their repeated outperformance close together, with Dell making the ranks back-to-back in 1997 and 1998.

Stocks that have appeared on the list of the top S&P 500 annual gains more than once, organized on a timeline with bubbles sized by the return amount. Dell made the list back to back in 1997 and 1998.

On the other hand, a select few have more staying power. Computing giant NVIDIA topped the charts in 2001 and triumphed again 15 years later in 2016. And this year might be another win, as the company has recently reached a $1 trillion market capitalization and has the highest year-to-date return in the S&P 500 as of July 6, 2023.

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