THERE was no keeping the troubled banking sector out of the headlines in 2012 after its Libor fixing and money-laundering scandals, while the contraction of the high street continued with the demise of Comet and JJB Sports. Here’s a look back at some of the key moments from another challenging year.
l January – The plight of Britain’s high street was in sharp focus after mixed updates on festive trading and the collapse of some well known retail names. Tesco saw billions of pounds wiped from its value after the supermarket admitted it messed up its pricing strategy in a “disappointing” Christmas while fashion chain Peacocks and lingerie chain La Senza collapsed into administration.
Royal Bank of Scotland chief executive Stephen Hester bowed to intense political and media pressure by waiving his annual bonus worth almost £1m. Pressure intensified on Mr Hester after RBS chairman, Sir Philip Hampton, announced he would waive his payout.
British Gas was among suppliers to announce lower electricity tariffs, with the UK’s biggest energy company knocking £24 from the average bill.
l February – The Treasury closed two tax loopholes after Barclays tried to avoid paying more than £500m in “highly abusive” dodges.
The pharmaceuticals industry was dealt a fresh blow after AstraZeneca announced a further 7,300 job cuts amid warnings that its profits will slide this year.
Britain’s payday lenders faced an investigation by the consumer watchdog amid fears they prey on those in financial trouble.
l March – The motor industry was given a huge boost when Japanese car giant Nissan announced plans to build a new model in the UK under a £125m investment programme, creating 2,000 jobs. The vehicle will be built at the Sunderland plant from mid-2013.
Chancellor George Osborne was accused of imposing a £1bn “granny tax” on pensioners as he used his Budget to cut the 50p top rate for Britain’s wealthiest earners and lift thousands of low-paid workers out of taxation altogether. His decision to charge VAT on hot food served by shops and supermarkets, including Greggs, caused the biggest furore, sparking a consumer campaign in an effort to overturn the “pasty tax”.
Grange Moor-born Iceland retail boss Malcolm Walker led a £1.45bn deal to buy back the frozen food chain he founded more than 40 years ago. Mr Walker and other senior managers secured 43% of the business after joining forces with other investors, including DFS sofa chain founder Lord Kirkham.
l April – The FTSE 100 Index fell heavily during the month as fears over Spain’s ability to keep on top of its spiralling debts reignited the eurozone debt crisis. Banks were hardest hit amid their exposure to Spanish lending as yields on the country’s debt moved closer to the 7% that forced Greece, Ireland and Portugal to seek financial help from the EU.
Supermarket giant Tesco said it would pump £1bn into revitalising its business after conceding its UK stores were jaded and under-staffed.
Vodafone moved to become the UK’s second biggest telecoms operator after it agreed to buy ailing Cable & Wireless Worldwide for £1.04bn. The mobile phone company was given a clear path after Indian rival Tata Communications walked away from discussions with C&WW.
l May – Shareholders claimed another high-profile scalp after Britain’s biggest insurer announced the abrupt exit of its chief executive. Andrew Moss’s decision to stand down came a week after investors voiced their discontent over the company’s performance by staging a massive protest vote against Aviva’s annual pay report.
Facebook co-creator Mark Zuckerberg pocketed more than a billion US dollars after one of the biggest US stock market flotations. The company was valued at about 105bn dollars – more than Amazon.com, McDonalds, Hewlett-Packard and Cisco.
Overseas demand for British-built vehicles such as BMW’s Mini and Nissan’s Qashqai drove the UK’s first trade surplus in cars since 1976. The turnaround follows significant investment in the UK from car manufacturers – £4bn in 18 months – including contracts to build new models and improved facilities.
l June – There were mounting calls for an inquiry into banking culture and practices after Britain’s biggest lenders were embroiled in fresh controversy over rigging key interest rates, as well as further evidence of mis-selling. Barclays was fined £290m by UK and US regulators for manipulating the Libor rate at which banks lend to each other, while it also emerged that business customers were sold complex financial products, called interest rate swaps, even though they did not fully grasp the downside risks.
The largest pharmacy chain in the United States swooped on high street chemist Boots as part of a shock £10bn takeover deal. Walgreens said it would initially acquire 45% of Alliance Boots, a business that includes a major European pharmaceutical wholesale arm, with an option to snap up the rest by 2015.
Fears that media giants BSkyB and BT overpaid in their £3bn Premier League rights deal sent shares in the pair sharply lower. The eye-watering price was much higher than the City had expected and represents a 70% hike on the current partnership with Sky and ESPN.
l July – Bob Diamond blamed a “series of unfortunate events” for his shock departure from Barclays as the former Barclays chief executive told MPs on the Treasury select committee that he felt “physically ill” when he heard the key Libor rate had been fiddled, although he denied he was “personally culpable”.
David Bagley, head of compliance at British banking giant HSBC, resigned in front of a US Senate sub-committee after it emerged the bank had exposed the US to billions of dollars worth of money laundering, drug trafficking and terrorist financing.
Shares in Olympics security provider G4S slumped after it admitted that it will incur a loss of up to £50m on the contract after it admitted it will not be able to provide enough staff for the Games.
l August – The banking industry was mired in fresh scandal after Standard Chartered was branded a “rogue institution” for covering up billions of pounds of illegal transactions with the Iranian government.
Barclays handed the job of restoring its tarnished reputation to an insider, just as another scandal threatened to engulf the UK bank. Antony Jenkins, who has been retail and banking boss since 2009, vowed to overhaul the bank after being named as immediate successor to Bob Diamond.
The American owners of Manchester United pocketed about £75m as shares in the football club were publicly traded for the first time in seven years. Some 16.6m shares were floated on the New York Stock Exchange.
l September – Defence giant BAE Systems confirmed talks over a potential merger with Airbus aircraft manufacturer EADS to create the world’s biggest aerospace and defence company.
General secretary Brendan Barber told the annual TUC Congress that lessons should be learned from the Olympics on how to rebuild the economy. In his final speech to Congress before stepping down at the end of the year, he said that the lessons of the summer were that the private sector was not always best and that the market does not always deliver.
JJB Sports – once the biggest sports retailer in Britain – admitted defeat as it announced plans to appoint administrators.
l October – Future Government rail plans were thrown off track after ministers scrapped a deal which would have seen Sir Richard Branson’s train company lose its West Coast franchise.
Bruised BAE Systems stepped up its efforts to reassure staff, customers and investors in the wake of its abandoned attempt to merge with EADS.
Barclays agreed to buy ING Direct UK in a deal that will see it add another 1.5m customers and boost its savings business by £10.9bn and its mortgage book by £5.6bn.
l November – City trader Kweku Adoboli, who gambled away £1.4bn in the UK’s biggest banking fraud and brought Swiss bank UBS to its knees, was jailed for seven years in a “spectacular” fall from grace.
The makers of drinks brands Robinsons squash and Irn-Bru announced plans to combine their businesses in a £1.4bn merger. Britvic, which includes a bottled water plant at Birkby, and AG Barr said the deal would create one of Europe’s leading soft drinks firms.
Electricals chain Comet collapsed into administration, prompting an “urgent” search for a buyer to protect 6,600 jobs at the 236-outlet chain. It was hit by weak trading conditions and its failure to secure the trade credit insurance needed to safeguard suppliers.
l December – Starbucks said it will pay “somewhere in the range of £10m” in UK corporation tax for each of the next two years after a row blew up in the wake of revelations it paid just £8.6m in 14 years of trading in Britain and nothing in the last three years.
Tesco looked set to pull the plug on its ill-fated US venture after admitting it took a £1bn gamble on America’s grocery market that failed to pay off.
Snack favourites including KP Nuts, McCoy’s crisps and Hula Hoops were sold to German firm Intersnack in a deal thought to be worth more than £500m.