Growth, crystal meth and wearable tech: business in 2013

MT looks back at 12 months of crises, catastrophes - and economic recovery.

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 28 Jan 2014


President Obama didn’t have a very happy new year: he spent the lead-up to it negotiating with Republicans to raise taxes (and the US’ debt ceiling) before the world’s biggest economy plunged headlong over the so-called fiscal cliff. The crisis was narrowly averted – but that didn’t prevent a similar situation from closing down most government services (including Pandacam) for a fortnight in October. In December, the two sides finally negotiated a long-term deal.

Still not sure what the fiscal cliff was about? Let Mr Burns explain…

2. FEBRUARY: Horsemeat trots on

There was neigh point trying to rein it in: newspaper readers were saddled with more horse puns than they could bridle at as the horsemeat scandal raged for almost two months. Tesco, Nestle, Asda , Lidl, Findus and even Premier Inn were victims, while Sainsbury’s escaped unscathed. Iceland CEO Malcolm Walker, meanwhile blamed ‘one or two rogue backstreet abattoirs’ selling horsemeat to the ‘lower end of the catering industry’ – before withdrawing two beef burger products from sale. It was all a bit pony, if you ask us.

3. MARCH: Help to Buy

We’ve had FirstBuy, we’ve had NewBuy: during March’s Budget George Osborne decided to combine the two to create Help to Buy, the ultimate housing market rescue plan. And boy, did it work: if Ed Miliband is to be believed, shares in housebuilders have risen 557% since the coalition government took office. Although the latest forecast by Halifax shows house prices are expected to rise by 8% next year. Does that constitute a bubble? Osborne doesn’t think so…

4. APRIL: Technology came over all fashion

Technology companies have been threatening us with ‘wearable tech’ ever since the first Bluetooth headset was launched, but in 2013 things became even creepier as Google unveiled its Glass. Yes, you may be able to take photos with the blink of an eye; yes, you may have the sum of human knowledge beamed on to your retina. But do you look cool? No. You do not look cool.

Samsung decided to take the subtler approach and in September launched its Galaxy Gear smartwatch (beating Apple, which is reportedly developing a similar device), which is exactly what it sounds like it is. To market the watch, it put together this advert. We’re not sure what it was going for, but if it was ‘a bit stalkery’, then it got the tone just right…

5. SUMMER: IPO fever

Is there anything Mark Zuckerberg does that the rest of the world doesn’t fall over itself to copy? Having finally recovered from its disastrous issue last year, Facebook broke into the S&P 500 in December. Meanwhile, rival Twitter, Royal Mail, Lloyds and countless others decided 2013 was the time to list. The government seemed to get it right when it sold off a 6% stake in Lloyds, but was heavily criticised for its ‘under-priced’ flotation of Royal Mail. Twitter, meanwhile set markets alight after its carefully-executed IPO (which even involved a ‘practice run’).

6. JULY: Administrations across the nation

Economic conditions may have improved during 2013 but that didn’t stop retailers from dropping like flies. Blockbuster, Nicole Farhi, HMV, Modelzone, Ark and Internacionale were all casualties of falling consumer confidence and the growth of online retail. Workers didn’t take it lying down, though – HMV’s employees, for example, took to Twitter to complain…

7. AUGUST: The Bank of England moves forward

Former Bank of England governor Mervyn King stepped down after 10 years in the post to make way for Canadian Mark Carney, monetary policy’s answer to George Clooney. Carney’s first major act in the post was to peg interest rates against unemployment – ie. interest rates won’t go up until unemployment drops to 7%. Businesses were happy, because it meant they could plan ahead. In fact, on the whole it’s gone down well…

Source: Google

8. OCTOBER: Energy prices short-circuited

Over the last few years banks have been the pantomime villains of business – but that’s changing, as energy companies increasingly take the flack for the ‘cost of living crisis’. For their part, energy providers spent the year alternately squirming and blaming rising oil prices (to be fair they have risen, as the chart below shows). In the end, the coalition bowed to peer pressure and imposed a £50 cut in ‘green crap’ – but E.On stuck two fingers up at that by announcing a price rise – of just under £50.

Source: Bloomberg

9. NOVEMBER: Ryanair got cuddly

After a series of worsening PR disasters (the culmination of which was its refusal to change the flights of a surgeon whose family had just been killed in a house fire) and a fall in profits, Ryanair announced it would ‘stop unnecessarily pissing people off’, relaxing its baggage policy and reducing penalties for passengers who had forgotten to print out their boarding passes. As part of that, boss Michael O’Leary decided to take a step back, forever making the budget airline industry a duller, less sweary place.

10. NOVEMBER: People tweeted about Paul Flowers

The Rev Paul Flowers’ life was going fairly well, until he appeared before a Treasury select committee and revealed that really, he had no idea what he was doing while he was running the Co-op Bank. Then, a couple of weeks later, he was exposed by the Daily Mail as a meth-addled, orgy-loving party animal, which didn’t really help. Mind you, on the bright side, it did prompt a whole raft of tweets like this:

So at least there was that.

11. NOVEMBER: The public got selfie-ish

It was a hard-fought contest between ‘selfie’ and ‘twerk’ for the Oxford Dictionaries word of the year – but the former won out in the end. And with that, selfies hit the mainstream:

12. DECEMBER: Recovery happened

Unemployment is down to 7.4%, inflation is at 2.1%, retail sales volumes rose by 0.3% in November – their fastest monthly growth since 2010 – and forecasts for UK growth have been revised up by the IMF, the CBI, and the ONS. Not surprisingly, when it came to delivering December’s Autumn Statement, George Osborne appeared very pleased with himself.

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