10 biggest business stories of 2011


Thomas CookPA

A number of British companies went under during a turbulent year for finance and business. Well-known high street names Blacks Leisure and La Senza became the latest retailers to head towards administration just before Christmas, while the lenders to Battersea Power Station, one of London's most famous landmarks, also called in administrators. Banks defied public criticism and paid out big bonuses again. Plus ça change.

On the other side of the pond, underwear belonging to Wall Street fraudster Bernard Madoff was auctioned off, to compensate victims of his $65 billion Ponzi scheme. Back in the UK, George Osborne dashed hopes of a quick sale of the government stakes in bailed-out banks Lloyds Banking Group and Royal Bank of Scotland, but sold Northern Rock to Virgin Money in November, at a loss to the taxpayer of at least £400 million.

What else happened in 2011 in the world of business?

1. At the start of the year, Barclays' new boss Bob Diamond firmly resisted demands from MPs that he give up his 2010 bonus, and courted controversy when he said bankers should stop apologising for their role in the financial crisis. He also said banks should be allowed to fail, without being bailed out by the taxpayer.

There was a public outcry when bailed-out RBS paid out bumper bonuses despite reporting a £1.1 billion loss for last year. And Goldman Sachs' bonuses were challenged by four orders of nuns who hold shares in the US bank. They obviously disagreed with Goldman boss Lloyd Blankfein's erstwhile claim that the was doing "God's work".

2. In March, Apple unveiled iPad2 with much fanfare. Seven months later, the company's charismatic founder Steve Jobs died at the age of 56 after losing his long battle with pancreatic cancer. Apple became the world's most valuable company by market capitalisation in the summer, overtaking oil group Exxon with $337 billion.

3. Rupert Murdoch cancelled his trip to the World Economic Forum in Davos to personally try and persuade the UK culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, to approve News Corporation's £8 billion buyout of Sky. In July, the bid had to be dropped after damaging phone hacking revelations engulfed the Murdoch media empire.

4. Bombardier, Britain's last remaining train maker, lost out to Siemens of Germany in the race to win a £1.4bn government contract. With half is workforce under threat at Derby in the wake of the controversial decision, MPs have urged the National Audit Office to investigate why Siemens was chosen as preferred bidder to supply 1,200 carriages for the London Thameslink route. So much for the government's "march of the makers". There is a chance that it could reopen the tender, though. And Germany's Deutsche Bahn has just ordered 90 new electric trains from Bombardier.

5. Britain's biggest care home provider Southern Cross collapsed with the loss of several thousand jobs. Unable to pay its annual rent bill, it was forced to break itself up in the summer and hand back its 750 homes to landlords. That process is virtually complete and its shares will be delisted from the London Stock Exchange in the New Year. The demise of the company, which used to be owned by US private equity giant Blackstone, prompted Labour leader Ed Miliband to lambast private equity houses as "asset strippers". About a third of the nursing comes will be run as a joint venture between Southern Cross's biggest landlord NHP and the care consultancy of Dr Chai Patel, a former head of the Priory clinics.

6. A leaked report revealed that major British banks, including HSBC and Royal Bank of Scotland, along with French and American banks, held billions of dollars of Libyan state funds. They didn't cover themselves in glory: Goldman Sachs invested $1.3 billion of Colonel Gaddafi's money and lost nearly all of it.

7. BP's new chief executive Bob Dudley suffered a series of setbacks, a year after the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. A share swap and Arctic exploration deal with Russia's Rosneft fell apart after objections from BP's current Russian partner TNK. Then the planned £4 billion sale of BP's 60% stake in Pan American Energy in Argentina collapsed. But better quarterly results allowed Dudley to claim the oil giant had "turned the corner". Meanwhile, Tony Hayward, BP's disgraced former chief executive landed a deal to exploit the oil fields of Iraq's Kurdistan region.

8. Debt-laden Thomas Cook is battling for survival after being hit by the Arab spring and the weak UK economy. But interim chief executive Sam Weihagen has also blamed mismanagement, particularly in the UK. Britain's oldest travel company, which runs the Going Places chain, is shutting almost one in six of its 1,300 travel agents in Britain after suffering a £400 million loss. The shares have lost about 90% of their value since June.

9. The highstreet downturn gathered pace, with at least 20 stores closing every day. Retail guru Mary Portas published her keenly awaited review in December and warned that Britain's high streets would disappear unless urgent action was taken. Among her recommendations to breathe new life into the high street were markets, free parking in town centres, "Super-Business Improvement Districts"... and bingo halls.

10. The banking industry faces a radical overhaul after George Osborne's decision to back nearly all the recommendations made by Sir John Vickers' Independent Banking Commission. HIgh street banking will be ringfenced from investment banking, also known as casino banking and banks will have to hold bigger capital cushions to absorb losses, of up to 17%. Even though the chancellor made a few concessions to the banks (in particular he delivered a get-out clause which seemed to be tailor-made for HSBC), thousands of City jobs are now on the line.