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A state-owned enterprise (SOE) is a business enterprise where the state has significant control through full, majority, or significant minority ownership. The defining characteristics of SOEs are that they have a distinct legal form and are established to operate in commercial affairs and commercial activities. While they may also have public policy objectives (e.g., a state railway company may aim to make transportation more accessible), SOEs should be differentiated from other forms of government agencies or state entities established to pursue purely nonfinancial objectives.
Government-owned corporations are common with natural monopolies and infrastructure, such as railways and telecommunications, strategic goods and services (mail, weapons), natural resources and energy, politically sensitive business, broadcasting, banking, demerit goods (e.g. alcoholic beverages), and merit goods (healthcare).
SOEs are also called state-owned company, state-owned entity, state enterprise, publicly owned corporation, government business enterprise, crown corporation, government-owned corporation, government-sponsored enterprises, commercial government agency, state-privatised industry public sector undertaking, or parastatal.
SOEs can be fully owned or partially owned by government. As a definitional issue, it is difficult to determine categorically what level of state ownership would qualify an entity to be considered as state-owned since governments can also own regular stock, without implying any special interference. Government-owned or state-run enterprises are often the result of corporatization, a process in which government agencies and departments are re-organized as semiautonomous corporate entities, sometimes with partial shares listed on stock exchanges.
The term 'government-linked company' (GLC) is sometimes used to refer to corporate entities that may be private or public (listed on a stock exchange) where an existing government owns a stake using a holding company. There are two main definitions of GLCs are dependent on the proportion of the corporate entity a government owns. One definition purports that a company is classified as a GLC if a government owns an effective controlling interest (more than 50%), while the second definition suggests that any corporate entity that has a government as a shareholder is a GLC.
In the Commonwealth realms, particularly Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, country-wide SOEs often use the style "Crown corporation", or "Crown entities". Examples of Crown corporations include the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and Air Canada before the latter underwent privatization. Cabinet ministers (ministers of the Crown) often control the shares in such public corporations.
At the level of local government, territorial or other authorities may set up similar enterprises which are sometimes referred to as "local authority trading enterprises" (LATEs). Many local authorities establish services, such as water supply as separate corporations or as a business unit of the authority.
SOEs often operate in sectors in which there is a natural monopoly, or the government has a strategic interest. However, government ownership of industry corporations is common.
Nationalization also forcibly converts a private corporation into a state-owned enterprise.
In most OPEC countries, the governments own the oil companies operating on their soil. A notable example is the Saudi national oil company, Saudi Aramco, which the Saudi government bought in 1988, changing its name from Arabian American Oil Company to Saudi Arabian Oil Company. The Saudi government also owns and operates Saudi Arabian Airlines, and owns 70% of SABIC as well as many other companies. They are, however, being privatized gradually.
Reasons and effects
In Western Europe and Eastern Europe there was a massive nationalization throughout the 20th century, especially after World War II. In Eastern Europe, governments dominated by Communists adopted the Soviet model. Governments in Western Europe, both left and right of centre, saw state intervention as necessary to rebuild economies shattered by war. Government control over so-called natural monopolies like industry was the norm. Typical sectors included telecommunications, power, petroleum, railways, airports, airlines, public transport, health care, postal services and sometimes banks. Many large industrial corporations were also nationalized or created as Government corporations, including among many British Steel Corporation, Statoil and Irish Sugar. Starting in the late 1970s and accelerating through the 1980s and 1990s many of these corporations were privatized, though many still remain wholly or partially owned by the respective governments.
A state-run enterprise needs to be distinguished from an ordinary limited liability corporation owned by the state. For example, in Finland, state-run enterprises (liikelaitos) are governed by a separate act. Even though responsible for their own finances, they cannot be declared bankrupt; the state answers for the liabilities. Stocks of the corporation are not sold and loans have to be government-approved, as they are government liabilities. In contrast, the state also owns controlling interest in ordinary limited liability corporations. A state-run enterprise is technically not always a corporation, it might also be a separate state entity, or simply a governmental agency acting as an enterprise, perhaps having its own budget. Conversely, the state can directly fund unprofitable business, such as railway services to remote areas, regardless of whether the operator is a private corporation.
- Government-sponsored enterprise
- List of government-owned airlines
- List of government-owned companies
- Public benefit corporation
- Public bodies
- Public ownership
- "State-Owned Enterprises Catalysts for public value creation?" (PDF). PwC. Retrieved 16 January 2018.
- Profiles of Existing Government Corporations, pp. 1–16
- Grossi, Giuseppe, and Reichard, C. (2008). "Municipal corporatization in Germany and Italy". Public Management Review.
- António F. Tavares (2017). "Ten years after: revisiting the determinants of the adoption of municipal corporations for local service delivery". Local Government Studies.
- "All Men Are Created Unequal". The Economist. 4 January 2014. Retrieved 27 September 2015.
Quote: «The wars and depressions between 1914 and 1950 dragged the wealthy back to earth. Wars brought physical destruction of capital, nationalisation, taxation and inflation»
- Profiles of Existing Government Corporations—A Study Prepared by the U.S. General Accounting Office for the Committee on Government Operations (pdf), Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1988, p. 301, GAO/AFMD-89-43FS Document: H402-4. Alternate location:
- Malaysia GLC OpenDay 2015.
- The Public Firm with Managerial Incentives by Elmer G. Wiens.