Top 11 industries that make the most money in the world

Have you ever wondered which industries generate the most revenue? In this article, we’ll explore the top 11 industries that generate the highest revenue and discuss investment opportunities within them.

It’s important to note that some illegal industries generate substantial profits. Below, we’ll also briefly touch upon these sectors. However, it’s challenging to determine their exact revenue due to the lack of transparent data available on a global scale.

Let’s find out more about the top 11 industries that make the most money in the world.

Top 11 industries that make the most money in the world

Based on thorough research, these are the top 11 industries that make the most money in the world:

  • Drugs
  • Prostitution
  • Banking
  • Arms
  • Pornography
  • Alcohol
  • Casinos and betting
  • Oil
  • Human trafficking
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Counterfeiting


The illegal drug trade, which includes activities like cultivation, manufacturing, distribution, and sales, is believed to be one of the most lucrative industries globally. It’s nearly impossible to know its exact revenue.

According to the United Nations (UN), this industry is estimated to exceed $300 billion. However, experts suggest that the actual figure is likely much higher.

A report titled “Transnational Crime and the Developing World” by Global Financial Integrity estimated that the global drug market’s size ranges from $426 billion to $652 billion annually, accounting for potentially 1% of global trade.

It’s important to note that investing in illegal businesses is not possible. Nonetheless, in some regions, marijuana has been legalised. In the past years, several marijuana and cannabis exchange-traded funds (ETFs) have become available.

THCXThe cannabis ETF
CNBSAmplify Seymour Cannabis ETF
YOLOAdvisorShares Pure Cannabis
MJETFMG Alternative Harvest ETF
TOKECambria Cannabis ETF

If you want to invest in ETFs, check our best ETF brokers article.


Prostitution is another lucrative industry, despite being illegal in most parts of the world. The UN estimates that this industry’s capital reaches approximately $108 billion.


The banking industry is one of the most profitable globally, and its legality provides access to more precise data. As of December 2022, the market capitalisation of the banking sector stood at $7.101 trillion, while the total capital invested in the industry amounted to $16.271 trillion.

However, when it comes to assets, the figures held by banks can be significantly higher. Below, we present the top 10 largest banks in the world ranked by market capitalisation:

NumberNameMarket Capitalisation
1JP Morgan Chase & Co.406.100 billion USD
2Bank of America277.340 billion USD
3Industrial & Commercial Bank of China219.370 billion USD
4Wells Fargo & Co169.380 billion USD
5China Construction Bank167.750 billion USD


In 2021, before the war, arms companies reported record sales of €564 billion. This remarkable achievement occurred despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, supply chain bottlenecks, and other potential factors that could have affected their income. Here are the seven largest arms companies in the world, ranked by their sales:

3Lockheed Martin
4General Dynamics
5Northrop Grumman
7BAE Systems

Aerospace and Defense ETFs:

TickerETF1 Year Return3 Year Return5 Year Return
ITAiShares US Aerospace & Defense39.12%2.92%12.09%
XARSPDR S&P 500 US Aerospace & Defense52.09%16.15%20.03%
PPAPowerShares US Aerospace & Defense27.36%8.69%14.84%


The pornography industry operates with many unregulated internet companies, making it challenging to pinpoint exact revenue figures. However, experts estimate that the industry’s global revenue can reach approximately $100 billion.

Investing in the pornography industry is relatively uncommon, and there are limited options. Nevertheless, it is possible to purchase shares in some production companies like Beate Uhse, DNXcorp, or the well-known Playboy.


The alcohol industry is known for generating a substantial amount of revenue. In recent years, two Chinese liquor brands have emerged as market leaders, boasting a combined market capitalisation of $470 billion. Here are the top five companies in the alcohol industry:

NumberNameMarket capitalisation
1Kweichow Moutai348.710 million USD
2Wuliangye Yibin120.910 million USD
3Anheuser-Busch Inbev120.620 billion USD
4Diageo104.420 billion USD
5Heineken Holding56.790 billion USD

ETFs of the alcoholic beverage industry:

TickerETF1 Year Return3 Year Return5 Year Return
PBJPowerShares Dynamic Food & Beverage Portfolio ETF25,42%%9,87%5,95%

ETF holdings:

 Company   %
Archer Daniels Midland Co. ADM  5.20
Hershey Company HSY  5.01
General Mills, Inc. GIS  4.93
Constellation Brands Inc – Ordinary Shares – Class A STZ  4.90
Coca-Cola Co KO  4.88
Keurig Dr Pepper Inc KDP  4.87
Mondelez International Inc. – Ordinary Shares – Class A MDLZ  4.75
PepsiCo Inc PEP  4.72
Albertsons Companies Inc – Ordinary Shares – Class A ACI  3.35
Kroger Co. KR  3.25

Casinos and betting

The gaming and betting industry is highly lucrative, generating over $50 billion in annual revenue in the US. Here are the top five companies in the casino and betting sector:

NumberNameMarket Capitalisation
1Las Vegas Sands42.380 million USD
2Flutter Entertainment27.920 million USD
3Evolution Gaming24.160 million USD
4Aristocrat15.660 billion USD
5MGM Resorts15.460 billion USD

Gaming industry ETF:

TickerETF1 Year Return3 Year Return5 Year Return
BJKVanEck Vectors Gaming ETF12.72%3.43%10.78%


At the beginning of the last decade, the six largest oil companies in the world collectively earned approximately $2.5 billion in profits. In 2008, their profits surged to around $156 billion.

Currently, the largest oil company globally is Saudi Aramco, which became publicly listed on the stock exchange at the end of 2019.

Here are the top five largest oil companies:

NumberNameMarket Capitalisation (millions of $)
1Saudi Aramco1.940 trillion USD
2Exxon Mobil Corporation468.700 billion USD
3Chevron349.660 billion USD
4Shell202.440 billion USD
5Total Energies158.110 billion USD

Oil industry ETFs:

TickerETF2019 Return2020 Return2021 Return
USOUnited States Oil Fund33.37%-67.66%-67.66%

Have a look at the following articles if you are interested in investing in oil:

Human trafficking

The human trafficking industry, including migrant trafficking, is estimated to generate nearly as much revenue as the drug or weapons industry. It’s believed that the total revenue could amount to a staggering €39,000 trillion. This criminal activity is concentrated in Asian countries like Myanmar, China, Cambodia, and Thailand, as well as in regions of South America and Africa.

Pharmaceutical industry

Experts estimate that the pharmaceutical industry, one of the most financially significant in the world, can generate approximately $700 billion in revenue annually.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, there is an expectation that the fear of new pandemics will further boost these figures.

Here are the top five largest pharmaceutical companies by market capitalisation:

1Johnson & Johnson440.040 million USD
2Eli Lilly329.130 million USD
3Novo Nordisk314.6500 million USD
4Merck275.140 million USD
5Abbvie261.180 million USD

Pharmaceutical industry ETF

TickerETF1 year return3 year return5 year return
IHEiShares U.S. Pharmaceuticals23.46%7.36%5.65%
XLVSSource Health Care S&P US Select Sector-0,39%16,60%14,08%
HLTWLyxor MSCI World Health Care TR UCITS-1,87%15,19%12,18%


The counterfeiting industry, particularly related to technology, generates around €500 billion in revenue annually worldwide. Some studies, such as the one conducted by Euromonitor, attribute at least 10% of global trade to counterfeiting.

According to the OECD, the most affected brands include Nike, followed by Rolex, Ray Ban, Louis Vuitton, Adidas, Apple, and Samsung.

How to invest in these industries?

Investing in illegal industries is not a viable option. These sectors are not open to legitimate investments.

In contrast, in legal industries such as pharmaceuticals, oil, arms, and others, the most common approach is through publicly traded companies listed on stock exchanges.

You can consider buying shares of these companies via one of the best commission-free brokers, or investing in ETFs (Exchange-Traded Funds) after choosing one of the best ETF brokers. Index funds tracking industry-specific indices are also an option – to find out more, check out this index fund guide.

Interactive Brokers

Interactive Brokers is one of the most comprehensive brokerage firms on the market. Thoroughly regulated by reputable authorities like the FCA, this broker allows you to invest in stocks, funds, options, bonds, and many other assets, so it’s a great choice for creating a high-return, diversified portfolio.

In terms of the top 11 industries discussed above, you won’t be able to invest in any illegal ones, but Interactive Brokers has a wide offering of assets in many other industries, including oil, pharmaceutical industry, banking, and many more. In fact, you can access stocks from over 50 markets around the world.

Have a look at our Interactive Brokers review for more information.

What is the performance of these sectors?

The profitability of these sectors varies depending on the prevailing economic conditions. For instance, the banking sector has experienced several years of negative performance due to factors like interest rate policies and crisis periods, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. It currently faces uncertainty due to the global economic situation.

The casino and betting industry has also seen negative performances in recent years, as evidenced by the two mentioned ETFs.

On the other hand, the oil industry has performed notably well, benefitting from price increases driven by decisions made by organisations like OPEC and geopolitical conflicts, such as the one in Ukraine.

Similarly, the pharmaceutical industry has thrived due to the increased demand for drugs and vaccines in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The arms industry has also realised positive returns, fueled by heightened defence spending by numerous countries and ongoing military conflicts worldwide.


In conclusion, this ranking highlights the 11 most profitable industries globally. The decision to invest in them ultimately rests on your personal choices and investment goals.


Is it ethical to invest in industries like arms or pharmaceuticals, which can have controversial implications?

While some investors avoid sectors with ethical concerns, others choose to engage in responsible investing. It’s important to research companies and funds that align with your values, or explore ethical investment options to balance profit and principles.

Can I invest in industries like human trafficking or illegal drugs legally?

No, investing in illegal industries is not possible within the bounds of the law. Such activities are illicit and can lead to legal consequences. It’s essential to focus on legal investment opportunities within legitimate sectors.

Are there any industries that consistently yield high profits regardless of economic conditions?

Certain industries, like oil and pharmaceuticals, tend to maintain profitability even in challenging economic environments. However, the performance of industries can be influenced by various factors, including geopolitical events and technological advancements.

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