State-owned company

A state-owned company, also known as a state-owned enterprise (SOE), is a business entity that is owned and operated by the government, typically to fulfill public policy objectives and provide essential services.
Updated: Jun 6, 2024

3 key takeaways

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  • State-owned companies are owned by the government and operate to meet public policy goals, including economic development and the provision of essential services.
  • These companies often exist in key sectors such as utilities, transportation, and natural resources.
  • State ownership can lead to benefits like ensuring service provision and strategic control, but also poses challenges like inefficiency and political interference.

What is a state-owned company?

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A state-owned company is a business entity in which the government holds significant or complete ownership. These enterprises are established to serve public interests, support economic development, and provide essential goods and services that may not be adequately addressed by the private sector. State-owned companies can range from wholly owned entities to those where the government holds a controlling stake.

Purpose and roles of state-owned companies

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State-owned companies serve various purposes and roles, including:

  • Public service provision: Ensuring the availability of essential services such as water, electricity, transportation, and healthcare.
  • Economic development: Supporting strategic industries, fostering industrialization, and promoting economic growth.
  • Resource management: Managing and exploiting natural resources like oil, gas, minerals, and forests in a sustainable manner.
  • Market stability: Intervening in markets to stabilize prices, ensure supply, and prevent monopolistic practices.
  • Employment: Providing job opportunities and maintaining employment levels, particularly in regions with high unemployment.

Characteristics of state-owned companies

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Several key characteristics define state-owned companies:

  • Government ownership: The government owns a significant or complete share of the company, giving it control over operations and decision-making.
  • Public policy objectives: SOEs often operate with the primary goal of achieving public policy objectives rather than maximizing profits.
  • Regulation and oversight: These companies are subject to strict regulatory oversight to ensure they align with national interests and policy goals.
  • Funding and subsidies: State-owned companies may receive government funding or subsidies to support their operations, especially in unprofitable sectors.

Advantages and disadvantages of state-owned companies

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State-owned companies offer several benefits but also face significant challenges:


  • Public service assurance: Ensures the provision of essential services to all citizens, regardless of profitability.
  • Strategic control: Allows the government to maintain control over critical industries and resources.
  • Economic stability: Can stabilize key sectors and support economic development during market failures or crises.
  • Social objectives: Facilitates the achievement of social goals such as employment creation and equitable resource distribution.


  • Inefficiency: State-owned companies can be less efficient than private enterprises due to lack of competition and bureaucratic management.
  • Political interference: Operations may be influenced by political considerations rather than economic efficiency or market needs.
  • Financial burden: SOEs can become financially burdensome if they require continuous subsidies and bailouts to remain operational.
  • Corruption risks: Greater potential for corruption and mismanagement due to close ties with government officials and lack of accountability.

Examples of state-owned companies

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  • China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC): A major state-owned enterprise in China, CNPC is involved in oil and gas exploration, production, and refining, playing a crucial role in the country’s energy security.
  • EDF (Électricité de France): A French state-owned company that is one of the world’s largest producers and distributors of electricity, primarily from nuclear power.
  • Indian Railways: Owned by the Government of India, it operates the fourth-largest railway network in the world, providing essential transportation services across the country.
  • Saudi Aramco: The state-owned oil company of Saudi Arabia, responsible for the majority of the country’s oil production and a key player in the global oil market.

State-owned companies are pivotal in many economies, providing essential services, managing strategic resources, and supporting economic development. While they offer several advantages, including ensuring service provision and maintaining strategic control, they also face challenges like inefficiency and political interference. 

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Arti is a specialized AI Financial Assistant at Invezz, created to support the editorial team. He leverages both AI and the knowledge base, understands over 100,000... read more.