Retailers and banks say good riddance to a brutal year

The squeeze on consumer spending coupled with a wave of hefty fines make 2012 one to forget. By Mark Leftly and James Thompson
  • @MLeftly

For many UK chief executives, the opening of their advent calendar on 1 December will have been a rare bright spot in an otherwise largely gloomy year. Last year was certainly one to forget for many of the UK's biggest sectors, with banking and retail suffering particularly badly for different reasons.

A brutal squeeze on consumer spending and broken business models claimed the scalps of a depressingly long list of retailers from the sportswear retailer JJB Sports to the electricals chain Comet, which both disappeared from the high street. Others from the card specialist Clinton Cards to the outdoor retail group Blacks Leisure emerged out of administration under new ownership, having shed their liabilities and hordes of loss-making stores.

However, some of the City's biggest banks, including Barclays and UBS, only had themselves to blame after they were hit by huge fines for rigging the Libor inter-bank lending rate. Separately, UBS was fined £29.7m in November over its rogue trader, Kweku Adoboli, who cost the Swiss bank more than £1.5bn in trading losses. But UBS was far from alone as institutions including Morgan Stanley and Standard Chartered, also found themselves forking out hefty fines over various wrongdoings.

In contrast, investors in Xstrata and Glencore were more upbeat after they voted overwhelmingly in November to merge the mining and commodity giants in a deal worth £56bn. The reaction from investors was far less friendly to the $104bn (£64.3bn) flotation of Facebook in May, as shares in the social network have tumbled sharply from the $38 float price.

On this side of the pond, the "shareholder spring" saw investors vent their frustration at bosses' bulging pay packets.

In one of the biggest revolts, Martin Sorrell, the chief executive of the advertising giant WPP, suffered a major rebuke when 60 per cent of proxy investor votes were cast against his £13m package.

But in the year of the Olympics, G4S, the security group, faced arguably the biggest embarrassment when it admitted it hadn't hired enough guards for the Games.

Twelve months of turmoil


1. The year starts with carnage on the high street as Millets owner Blacks Leisure and lingerie chain La Senza collapse into administration

2. Political pressure results in Royal Bank of Scotland chief executive Stephen Hester waiving his £1m bonus


3. US investment bank Jefferies snaps up struggling but venerable City broker Hoare Govett

4. Commodities giant Glencore and miner Xstrata reveal a £50bn merger that takes shareholders the rest of the year to vote through


5. Former Goldman Sachs employee Greg Smith sends shock waves through Wall Street as he claims the bank refers to clients as “muppets”

6. Rio Tinto turns off the power at the Lynemouth smelter in Northumberland, ending four decades of aluminium production


7. JP Morgan Cazenove star rainmaker Ian Hannam quits over a Financial Services Authority fine for market abuse, but vows to clear his name

8. AstraZeneca boss David Brennan steps down, after six years in charge as shareholders start flexing their muscles over executive pay and performance


9. The ‘shareholder spring’ in in full-flow as Sly Bailey resigns from Trinity Mirror and Andrew Moss is forced out at Aviva

10. Facebook finally lists its shares in New York, but a technical glitch sends the stock price plummeting on debut


11. BP reveals that it is looking to sell its stake in its troubled Russian joint venture, TNK-BP, which eventually sells for around $27bn (£17bn)

12. Sir Martin Sorrell sees the majority of WPP investors fail to back his £13m pay package, but remains in charge


13. Barclays chief executive Bob Diamond quits in the wake of the Libor rate-rigging scandal

14. Security group G4S admits that it can’t provide enough guards for the London Olympics


15. Standard Chartered settles with US regulators after being accused of helping Iran launder about $250bn (£154bn)

16. FirstGroup is awarded the West Coast Mainline rail franchise, which is later rescinded as the government admits to running a flawed bidding process


17. JJB Sports goes into administration, though Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct later buys out part of the remaining business

18. Airbus owner EADS and BAE Systems in talks over a £30bn megamerger that German Chancellor Angela Merkel later vetoes


19. Tesco’s profit falls for the first time in nearly 20 years, while rival Sainsbury’s saw sales on the up

20. UBS rogue trader Kweku Adoboli gives evidence over his $2.3bn (£1.5bn) of trading losses, but is later jailed for fraud


21. Hewlett-Packard writes-off $8.8bn (£5.4bn) over its 2011 purchase of Autonomy, alleging that the British software firm’s finances had been misrepresented

22. Canadian central banker Mark Carney is unveiled as Sir Mervyn King’s successor as Governor of the Bank of England


23. HMV issues a “going concern” warning and admits it will almost certainly breach bank covenants tests in January, following another double-digit decline in sales

24. Dogfight! Sir Richard Branson bets IAG boss Willie Walsh £1m that the Virgin Atlantic brand will still be around in five years