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Top Financial Stories 2014

I generally ask myself at this time of year what were the biggest stories of the past twelve months in business/financial news.

Of course, I choose the ones I do largely because they illustrate an important theme, and in the list below I'll spell out and italicize the theme. Yet the theme itself isn't the story.

In terms of regional mix, with this line-up I've got two Asian stories (Feb., April), four European stories (January, June, October, December) and six North America (March, May, July, August, September, Nov.). A nice thematic point: I both begin and end with Russia.

All that said, here is this year's list.

January 2014:

Russian oligarchs. The Supreme Court of Russia releases Platon Lebedev, formerly of NFO Menatep, and a man who had spent more than a decade in lock-up. Russia has two oligarch problems: the oligarchs have a stranglehold on key parts of the economy, and the govt., when it does try to break that stranglehold, is ham-fisted and scares away foreign capital. Lebedev's long imprisonment is surely an example of the second of these problems.

February 2014:
Currency wars, Crypto front: The Mt Gox exchange closed down for an indefinite period, under pressure from hackers, putting an impressive dent in the market for bitcoins. Two months later it would begin liquidation proceedings under Japanese law.

March 2014:
Market structure: Michael Lewis' new book, on HFTs and related exchange/structural issues, appears: it excites public, regulators, and trial lawyers. Lewis is the fellow portrayed above.

April 2014:
India's business climate: The Indian general elections began on April 7th. This was a multi-phase event that would continue into mid-May, and would put a more business-friendly government in firm control of the legislature.

May 2014:
Delaware corp. law: The Chancery Court upheld a two-layered poison pill in a lawsuit involving famed auction house Sotheby's.

June 2014:
European business climate: ECB announced nominal negative interest rates, warding off the mavens' fear of deflation.

July 2014:
U.S. business climate: Federal Reserve headed in the opposite direction from the ECB, releasing minutes indicating it will end QE in October. Market reacted well to the news.

August 2014:
U.S. tax dispute: Burger King's decision to buy Tim Hortons is widely assumed to be a tax dodge, heightens debates.

September 2014:
Silicon Valley: Apple announces a range of new products on September 9th. Probably the highlight was the iPay, a feature of the new iPhone that will support popular credit cards.

October 2014:
Social Media: A large French bank creates a system letting its customers tweet each other payments. Together, the news from Apple and Twitter last month and this indicates that disintermediation will continue to shake up the world of finance.

November 2014:
Marijuana: A new, above-ground marijuana industry is coming into existence in the U.S., as one state after another eases up its rules on the subject. This year's election strengthens that industry, as voters in two new states, and the District of Columbia, get on the bandwagon.

December 2014:
Currency wars, Nationalist front: Under pressure of sanctions and the fall in crude oil prices, the value of Russia's ruble collapsed December 15-16th, notwithstanding the government's attempt to prop it up with a monstrous interest rate increase.


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