The 10 biggest business stories of 2015

From VW's big emissions scandal to the never-ending Heathrow saga, a brief look at the most important things that happened this year.

by Jack Torrance
Last Updated: 17 Mar 2016

1. VW’s suspicious emissions

The Germans have a reputation for making quality products that you can trust to work. This year that trust was shaken by the dramatic revelation that Volkswagen had deliberately cheated emissions tests to make its cars look more environmentally friendly than they actually were. The scandal has hit it in the pocket – UK sales were down 20% in November – and left it with a lot of work to do convincing customers that it can be trusted.

2. Chinese jitters

After years of soaring growth, China’s expectations appeared to come back down to earth with a bang in August, when official data suggested its manufacturing sector was contracting. Investors around the world panicked and for a moment it looked like we could be on the precipice of another crisis. Thankfully things have calmed down since, but that’s not to say China’s economy doesn’t still have big problems ahead.

3. Oil went south

The price of crude was already floundering at the start of the year, but fell even further as producers continued to spew out millions of barrels of the black stuff. China’s woes certainly didn’t help matters and there are few signs that oil will return to $100+ any time soon. At the time of writing, a barrel of brent crude would set you back just under $38.

4. Miners digging deep

Oil isn’t the only commodity that’s gone off the boil this year. Turbulence in the metal markets has caused no end of headaches for miners like Glencore, Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton, which have all had to slash jobs and spending in a bid to turn things around. The Australian government expects iron ore prices to fall another 19% in 2016, so there might be worse to come.

5. Sharing the love

What is the sharing economy anyway? The hottest start-up trend of the past couple of years came to the fore in 2015 as investors ploughed cash into the trend’s booming adherents. Taxi app Uber, which may or may not be part of the sharing economy depending on who you speak to, had another bumper year of soaring growth - even if it did continue to rub regulators up the wrong way.

6. Discount retail explodes

The soaring popularity of super-cheap supermarkets Aldi and Lidl shows no sign of evaporating. The pair have continued to notch up double-digit growth and capture 10% of the food market, while their larger competitors have struggled to even maintain sales. It’s not just discount grocery retailers that have boomed, either. Though its share price has had a bumpy end to the year, Poundland continues to drag more and more punters through the door and finally got approval for its takeover of rival 99p Stores, while B&M founders Bobby and Simon Arora took first place in MT's Top 100 Entrepreneurs 2015. 

7. Big banks get in shape

Banks are still getting used to the post-crash world. Amid tightening regulation and new economic realities, many are having to cut back on staff, get out of unprofitable markets and clean up their balance sheets. At Standard Chartered, Bill ‘Nuclear’ Winters has set out his plan to make the bank more ‘lean and focused’, while RBS has been sprucing up Williams & Glynn, its renamed England and Wales retail bank, ahead of a regulator-mandated sell-off.

8. HSBC looks east (or west?)

HSBC has spent the year stoking up talk of its potential plan to leave the UK. Unhappy with some aspects of the country’s tax regime, the bank has been flirting with Hong Kong, New York and even Toronto as a potential place to hang its hat. We’ll have to wait until next year to find out its final decision.

9. Bookies gamble on mega mergers

The digital revolution has transformed the gambling industry and now Britain’s betting shops are looking like they could go the way of the dodo. Seeking safety in numbers, the nation’s bookies have been making new friends. Gala Coral and Ladbrokes announced their plans to merge in July, followed by similar news from Betfair and Paddy Power in September. How long will the honeymoon last?

10. Airport expansion kicked into the long-grass (yet again)

Last year’s high-stakes general election has passed, but the government has gone and kicked the politically sensitive decision over airport expansion into the long-grass again. The Davies Commission’s report gave us some hope for action when it backed plans for a third runway at Heathrow in July. But now it seems likely we won’t be hearing a peep until after the expansion-averse Conservative Zac Goldsmith has fought London’s mayoral election in May.

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