By Jonathan Davies

As 2014 draws to a close, I've taken a look back at the biggest stories in the business world over the past 12 months.


Confident businesses - 2014 started with a bang for business confidence. This brief piece of research from Lloyds Banking Group showed that business confidence hit a 20-year high. And this research from Bibby Financial Service said nearly 70% of business owners were optimistic for 2014.

Floods - The UK was battered with floods over the Christmas period, with homes and businesses in the South West in particular, left ruined. The impact on small businesses was later estimated to be £831 million by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).

Supermarkets - Little did we know that this would become such a huge story as 2014 rolled on. The budget supermarkets, Aldi and Lidl, and high-end Waitrose, enjoyed a stronger Christmas period than the 'big four'. Less than a week earlier, Sainsbury's cut its profit forecast - a sign of things to come. Towards the end of the month, Justin King, the man widely credited with Sainsbury's success over the past decade, announced he was stepping down from the supermarket.


Microsoft - Microsoft announced that Satya Nadella would replace Steve Ballmer as its chief executive, with Bill Gates saying there was "no better person to lead Microsoft".

Google vs Europe - February was arguably the real starting point of the battle between Google and the European Commission. The search giant agreed to change how some of its results were displayed after the Commission accused it of giving preferential treatment to Google products and services.

Lloyds Bank profits - The part-state-owned bank announced its first profits since being bailed out by the government in 2008. Lloyds Bank reported annual profits of £415m.

Inflation - Sparking a downward trend for 2014, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) confirmed that the UK's rate of inflation fell below 2% for the first time since 2009.

WhatsApp - Facebook announced that it had bought the popular messaging app, WhatsApp, for an incredible $19bn.


Ukraine - Days after Pro-Russian gunmen took control over government buildings in the Ukrainian region of Crimea, the economic fallout was already being felt. The price of the Russian rouble fell and started a year of hardship for Russia and economic tensions with the West.

Interest rates - March also marked the fifth year in which interest rates remained stationary at the record low of 0.5%.

Bananas - Irish fruit firm Fyffes and its US rival, Chiquita, announced a merger in March which created the world's biggest banana company, estimated to be worth more than $1 billion.

The Budget - In March, the Chancellor George Osborne delivered his fifth Budget to the House of Commons, outlining the government's plans for the next 12 months.

Co-op Bank - Less than a year after finding a £1.5 billion black hole in its finances and almost collapsing, the Co-op Bank announced it needed to raise a further £400m after discovering another black hole.

Forex investigation - An investigation by Swiss authorities was launched into Barclays and RBS over allegations of rigging foreign exchange markets. The allegations were described as "every bit-as-bad" as the Libor fixing.


Payday lenders - The City regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), issued its battle warning to payday lenders, promising to "take out" any who failed to new strict guidelines.

UK economy - The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said the UK will have the strongest economic growth in the G7 in 2014, with growth of more than 3% forecast.

UK car sales - The UK car was showing signs of an impressive 2014. In April, the Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders (SMMT) said new car sales in the UK hit a 10 year high.

Tesco profits - With the rise of Aldi, Lidl and Waitrosie now confirmed, the decline of Tesco was beginning. The UK's biggest supermarket reported a 6% fall in annual profits.

First-time buyers - With the housing market firmly in 'boom' mode by this point, the number of first-time buyers hit the pre-recession high.

Pfizer vs AstraZeneca - The end of April saw the start of a long running saga as US pharmaceutical firm Pfizer launched a takeover bid for UK rival AstraZeneca. The bids eventually failed and even ended with the bosses of both firms appearing before a Parliamentary committee.

Zero-hour contracts - With growing public anger over zero-hour contracts, the ONS revealed at there were an estimated 1.4 million people working on a zero-hour contract in the UK.


May was a busy one!

Morrisons - Morrisons was fairing worst in the battle between the 'big four' supermarkets and the up-and-comers. So, it announced a HUGE price cut - the supermarket cut its prices for more than 1000 products. The supermarket price war had begun.

House prices - Nationwide said the growth of house prices hit double figures for the first time in four years.

Dixons Carphone - May saw the merger of electronics retailer Dixons and mobile phone retailer Carphone Warehouse announced in a £3.8bn deal.

MH370 - Malaysia Airlines said its losses had grown 59% after the disappearance of flight MH370.

Russia-China gas deal - After 10 years of negotiations, Russia and China finally agreed a gas supply deal worth an estimated $400bn.

Japan inflation - May saw the rate of inflation in Japan hit a 23 year high after the government introduced a sales tax increase.

Told you May was a busy one!


Services jobs - The services sector accounts for around 70% of the UK economy, so when it grows, the economy grows. In June, figures showed that employment in the sector was at a 17 year high.

Premier League - Deloitte, which takes a special interest in the link between sport and business, said the revenue generated by Premier League football clubs broke £3 billion for the first time in the 2013-14 season.

Britain means Business - June also saw the launch of the first ever Britain means Business magazine, our new, innovative publication for entrepreneurs.

Morrisons - In a bizarre turn of events, the former chairman of Morrisons, Sir Ken Morrison, launched a scathing attack on the supermarket and its current boss Dalton Phillips. Sir Ken even described his plans for the company as "bulls***".

Uber - More than 12,000 black cab drivers took to the streets of London in protest over new taxi booking app, Uber. But the protests resulted in the number of registered to Uber rising 850%.

World Cup - With the World Cup in Brazil, football fans were estimated to have spent more than £600 million on gifts for their partners as a 'sorry/thank you' for watching so much football over the month.

UK-China deal - Trade and investment deals worth £14 billion between China and the UK were signed in June.


July was another busy one!

La Senza - Lingerie retailer La Senza fell into administration for the second time in two years after a "slowdown in consumer spending".

Lindsay Lohan vs Grand Theft Auto - In one of 2014's more bizarre stories, Lindsay Lohan filed a lawsuit against the makers of the Grand Theft Auto 5 video game, claiming her likeness was used for one of the characters.

Housing market - With prices growing ever higher, the deputy governor of the Bank of England Sir John Cunliffe said the housing market is the biggest risk to the UK's economic recovery.

Tour de France - The Grand Depart of the Tour de France came to Yorkshire in July. With millions of people taking to the streets to see the best cyclists in the world, figures release later in the year suggested the economic benefit was £128 million.

Manchester United - Shortly after Nike confirmed its deal to supply Manchester United's kits would end following the 2014/15 season, the club announced a record breaking deal with adidas worth £750m, more than double the value of the previous record.

Tesco - After a torrid first half of the year, Tesco chief executive Philip Clarke announced that he would leave the company in October.

London 2012 - Two years after the Olympics and Paralympics were held in London, the second annual report said the economic benefit had reached £14 billion - beating the four year target in half the time.

UK growth forecast - The IMF raised its growth forecast for the year from 2.8% to 3.2%, cementing the UKs place as the fastest growing economy in the G7.

Lloyds Libor fine - Lloyds Banking Group was fined £218 million for its part in the manipulation of the Libor rate. A week later, the bank's PPI bill passed the £10 billion mark.


Bernie Ecclestone - Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone paid £60 million to settle bribery charges at a Germany court.

Online shopping - 11 August was the 20th anniversary of what is believed to be the first ever online purchase.

Oil prices - As ongoing tensions continued in Ukraine and Iraq, oil prices dropped to a nine-month low. It sparked a downward trend for the rest of 2014.

Japan - Official figures showed that the Japanese economy took a turn for the considerable worst, contracting by a huge 6.8% in the second quarter.

Interest rates - After months of speculation over when interest rates would go up, economists said an increase was not likely in 2014 after a sharp fall in inflation.


Celebrity leaks - There were new concerns over cyber security in September as hackers leaked hundreds of nude celebrity images, including the likes of Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton and Arianna Grande.

NATO - Newport, Wales played host to the NATO Summit in September. And with the eyes of the world on the country, there was plenty of opportunity for economic benefit.

Islamic State - Awareness of militant group Islamic State grew dramatically after the atrocities it committed. But the world grew wise to the fact that it is one of the most sophisticated terrorist groups ever known. That's why we looked at how Islamic State uses social media to promote its cause.

Phones4U - The mobile phone retailer Phones4U entered administration in September, leading to its ultimate demise.

Scotland - After months of strong campaigning and a late dash up north from Westminster politicians, on 18 September, Scotland voted 'No' on independence, meaning the UK stayed intact.

Tesco - 2014 just didn't get any better for Tesco. In September, it discovered a £250 black hole in its profits after a whistleblower came forward. A number of executives, including the UK managing director, were suspended as it investigated the matter.

Alibaba - Alibaba floated shares in the US for the first time. The IPO raised $25bn, making it the single largest floatation in US history.

Apple - 2014 saw tax avoidance by multinational corporations come under intense scrutiny. In September, the European Commission confirmed it would investigate Apple's tax arrangements with Ireland.


October was another busy one!

Minimum wage - The very start of October saw the National Minimum Wage rise to £6.50, but it also brought fresh debates over wider introduction of the Living Wage.

Supermarkets - The supermarket price war took another turn, with Morrisons promising to match Aldi and Lidl's prices.

Hong Kong protests - In Hong Kong, thousands of people took to the streets for pro-democracy protests. They occupied the streets during a traditional shopping week. In the first week alone, it is estimated to have cost retailers hundreds of millions of pounds.

Recovery - A closely watched survey indicated that the speed of the economic recovery was slowing down.

Amazon - Following Apple in September, the European Commission announced it would be investigating Amazon over allegations of tax avoidance.

Ebola - With the Ebola outbreak causing havoc in West Africa, it started to have an impact on financial markets in October.

Unemployment - October saw the ONS announce that unemployment fell below two million people for the first time in five years, in the three months to the end of August.

Tesco - Adding to Tesco's already big pile of problems in 2014, US billionaire investor Warren Buffett sold 245 million shares in the supermarket, saying his decision to invest in Tesco was a "huge mistake". Tesco also reported a 92% fall in profits.

Asda - Asda faced a different kind of trouble to the ones seen by Tesco, in October. It was the subject of mass legal action from more than 10,000 of its female employees over equal pay.


Manchester - November started with the news that Manchester would get its own elected Mayor as part of George Osborne's plans to create a 'Northern economic powerhouse'.

Living Wage - The Living Wage, determined as the level required for workers to comfortably cover the basic cost of living, was raised by 20p to £7.85.

World Trade Center - Thirteen years after being destroyed in the 9/11 attacks, the brand new World Trade Center was opened for business.

New cars - The number of new cars sold in the UK in a year hit two million for the first time since 2007, marking the 32nd consecutive month of growth.

Alibaba - Alibaba said it made $4.4 billion worth of sales in the first 17 hours of Singles' Day. The one-day event was designed as an anti-Valentine's day, a day for single people to buy gifts for themselves.

Currency markets - Five banks, including HSBC and RBS, were fined a total of £2bn following an investigation into the fixing of currency markets.

Gender gap - The average full-time annual wage gender pay gap shrank to a record low in April, according to the ONS.

Great British Entrepreneur Awards - Sixty-five of the country's brightest entrepreneurs were recognised for their achievements at the Great British Entrepreneur Awards 2014, with James Watt, founder of BrewDog, taking home the overall gong of Great British Entrepreneur of the Year.

Fresh Business Thinking Power 100 - In November, we revealed the Fresh Business Thinking Power 100 - a list of the top 100 movers, shakers and influencers in business and entrepreneurship.


Shared Parental Leave - New laws on Shared Parental Leave came into effect at the start of December.

Autumn Statement - George Osborne delivered his Autumn Statement at the start of December, updating Parliament on the government's plans before the General Election.

Tesco - Rounding off what was a miserable year for the UK's biggest retailer, Tesco slashed £1bn off its profit forecast.

Inflation - Inflation, as measured by the Consumer Prices Index (CPI), fell to 1%, the ONS announced in December. It is the lowest level of inflation since 2002.

Oil prices - Oil prices continued to plummet in December, falling below $58 per barrel. It even lead to suggestions that the North Sea oil industry is facing a "crisis" and "could collapse".

Russia - Russia's currency went into free-fall half way through the month, as falling oil prices and economic sanctions continue to make a huge impact on the country's economy. At its worst point, $1 bought 80 roubles, an all-time low for the rouble.

Instagram - December also saw Instagram overtake Twitter in terms of how many users it has. Facebook-owned Instagram now has 300 million users, compared to Twitter's 284 million.

What has been your business highlight of 2014? Let us know on Twitter @freshbusiness.

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