BEIJING: China Mobile and ICBC lead the list of the most valuable Chinese brands, but slowing economic growth means a majority of this group have declined in value in the last year, Millward Brown has revealed.

The research firm, a unit of WPP Group, estimated that the net worth of China's top 50 intangible assets fell by 1.6% year on year to $320.2bn, essentially due to the diminishing pace of fiscal expansion.

"The more revealing result is not that brand value declined, but that the decline was minimal both in absolute terms and relative to the decrease in brand value in some fast-growing markets," the report said.

China Mobile, the telecoms expert, retained top spot despite posting a 20% contraction to $50.5bn. While it has 700m subscribers, a global high, intensifying competition and its slow progress in the smartphone category exerted an impact in 2012.

ICBC, the bank, claimed second on $40.4bn, down by 8% from 2011 but still making it the most valuable financial brand worldwide. The firm, like many of its local rivals, faces the challenge of building consumer awareness as it taps overseas markets.

The China Construction Bank took third and logged a 9% lift to $24bn, buoyed by a strong corporate focus. Baidu, the owner of China's biggest search engine, was fourth, up by 40% to $22.7bn.

Fifth place went to Tencent, another online group, which enjoyed the greatest increase in value in the top 50, up 60% to $20.2m, in part thanks to its success with Weixin, a mobile messaging app.

Overall, some 14 members of the rankings recorded an improvement in their net worth when measured against last year, whereas 30 witnessed a contraction and two remained unchanged.

Privately-held companies comprised 26% of the country's highest-value brands, compared with 22% last year, so that the corresponding share for state-owned enterprises dipped under 75%.

Among the other primary findings of the study was that consumer trust scores relating to the 50 top operators slipped from 35% to 33% year on year. This figure stood at 36% two years ago.

One core strategy in response could be achieving genuine stand out, as Millward Brown's analysis of 1,000 brands showed being seen as "meaningfully different" typically boosted value totals by 37%.

In spite of the decline in their net worth, the analysis also stated that the top 50 brands provided a 5.8% return on investment on the MSCI stock market, versus a 5.6% drop for all firms listed on this index.

Data sourced from Millward Brown; additional content by Warc staff