31 December 2011

Top Financial Stories 2011

I generally ask myself at this time of year what were the biggest stories of the past twelve months, in business/financial news.

By "stories," I don't mean themes, such as "Digital Revolution" or "EU unraveling." I mean stories, such as one might have seen in a particular newspaper on some specific day. Of course, I choose the ones I do largely because they illustrate an important theme, and in the list below (an innovation this year) I'll spell out and italicize the theme. Yet the theme itself isn't the story.

Further, I don't rank them, as in a top ten list. I assign one top story to each of the twelve months.

All that said, here is this year's list.

January: Isolating Iran. After the Central Bank of India, under pressure, withdraws from the Asian Clearing Union (which had been a crucial conduit for payments to Iran for petroleum), Indian companies that import oil from Iran scramble to find another way to send their payments and keep the flow going. Their substitute arrangement involved payments through the Hamburg, Germany based EIH Bank. The isolation of Iran would become a bigger theme for many industrialized nations later in the year, but we may as well use this as the kick-off.  

February:  food versus fuel. The US Department of Agriculture announces deregulation of one strain of genetically modified corn -- a strain designed for use as ethanol, the gasoline substitute. This announcement feeds into several ongoing stories -- one of them is the widening perception of the failure of ethanol (at least the traditional "first generation" sort) as an instrument of policy.

March: Banking for the poor. The central bank in Bengaldesh dials up the conflict over microfinance, ordering that the Grameen Bank cut its ties with its founder, Yunus. Arguments in that country's high court Monday, March 7.

April: Nuclear power. Continuing crisis at Japan's Fukushima I nuclear power plant forces advocates of nuclear power generation world-wide onto the defensive. On April 11, Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency rated the disaster as a "major accident" or a level 7 event on an internationally recognized scale.

May:  Exchange consolidation. Nymex OMX Group and the Intercontinental Exchange (ICE)  withdraw their hostile bid for NYSE Euronext, apparently leaving a clear path for NYSE's friendly merger with Deutsche Boerse. 

June:  Political scandal. Oops. Time reporter Michael Grunwald writes this month, "reports of Solyndra's death have been greatly exaggerated." But they weren't. The company, an Obama administrration  favorite, would file for bankruptcy two months later.

July:  Digital revolution.   Bankruptcy of famed bookstore chain Borders turns into a liquidation proceeding as re-org plans fall apart.  Bricks-and-mortars retailing takes another in a series of hits.

August.  Fiscal policy. US Congress and President seek to resolve long-running debt-ceiling soap opera.  S&P downgrade of US Treasury debt. End up just perpetuating the soap opera.

September:  Banking. UBS Rogue trader Kweku Adoboli arrested, September 15, 3:30 AM London time.

October: Allegations of naked-shorting conspiracy and pushback.  Ali Nazerali brings a libel suit in Canada against Deep Capture and affiliated entities.

November.  Retailing turmoil. Releases by Amazon and Barnes & Noble unleash the dogs of war, against each other and Apple, in the retail market for tablet computers.

December. Fiscal policy.  France and Germany develop an ambitious joint plan to turn the eurozone -- or perhaps the whole of the EU -- into a fiscal union. Cameron, for the Brits, keeps his distance.

Yes, there is a hometown bias to this compilation. Seven of the twelve top stories are North American in character, six of those are US based. The five that one might attribute to the rest of the world are divided among western Asia (two), eastern Asia (one), and Europe (two).

I have no proposals as to what you might make of that.

Happy new year, everyone.

1 comment:

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.