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Year of the Underdog

It has been a topsy-turvy year in 2016 with some quite unexpected outcomes, none more so than Donald Trump’s astonishing election win to become the 45th US President from next year.

Here’s a potted, and by no means complete, timeline of some of the business and other events that happened during the year.

January

Woolworths made the momentous decision to throw in the towel on its Masters disaster, just as Wesfarmers announced it would buy the UK Homebase business, expanding the hugely successful Bunnings brand.

The Queensland Nickel Refinery went into administration kicking off a long battle with Clive Palmer and his dodgy business dealings.

February

Coles dropped Bega Cheese as its house brand cheese supplier and handed the contract to Murray Goulburn instead. The latter company was on the precipice of its own financial disaster.

The TPP trade deal was actually signed in Auckland during this month, including a representative from the US. The TPP was to cover a bloc of countries with a combined population of 800 million and about one third of the world’s GDP.

Crude oil prices hit a 13 year low of US$26.21 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

RBSA Governor Glenn Stevens said it was “pretty unlikely we’ll be raising rates anytime soon”.

Scientists got a bit excited as they proved the existence of gravitational waves as predicted by Einstein more than 100 years ago.

The Pope called Donald Trump “un-Christian” for suggesting a wall be built between the US and Mexico. It prompted the candidate to respond with “for a religious leader to question a person’s faith is disgraceful”.

Both Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton changed their dividend policies.

Receivers decided to close all 301 Dick Smith stores in Australia and the 62 New Zealand stores. Competitor Gerry Harvey said “Dick Smith was buggered five years ago”. Former Dick Smith business owner Woolworths appointed Brad Banducci as its new CEO and Sally Macdonald as its new BIG W CEO (she resigned in November).

March

Spot iron ore prices began rallying to US$62 per tonne as Fortescue Metals Group announced a deal with giant South American miner Vale on a variety of factors.

The European Central Bank lowered its bank deposit rate into negative territory and envisaged low rates for a very long time.

Prime Minister Turnbull recalled the Parliament in order to pass the ABCC legislation, threatening a double dissolution election if not passed.

ISIS claimed responsibility for the Brussels Airport bomb attack. In California, the iPhone of a gunman who committed a mass shooting became the subject of a court order to make Apple provide the FBI with the software to hack into the phone. The order sparked a debate pitting digital privacy rights against national security concerns.

April

Arrium shares were suspended after bank talks failed to sort out $2.8 billion of debt. The four major retail banks were owned a combined $1 billion. Arrium went into voluntary administration shortly after.

Peabody Energy filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the US. The company was Australia’s 5th largest coal producer with 10 mines and 3,500 employees, although the Australian operations were able to continue to trade as normal.

The RBA cut the cash rate to 1.75% as Dr Phil Lowe was announced as the next new Governor.

May

The government called a double dissolution election for 2 July.

The RBA said the value of Australian home-owner debt was $1.005 trillion, up from $124 billion in 1995 and $500 billion in 2006. Investor housing loans were $551 billion of the total debt.

June

The UK voted to exit the EU. The UK economy is the world’s 5th largest accounting for approximately 4% of global GDP and 3% of global trade. In 2015 more than 40% of UK goods and services exports went to Europe accounting for about 13% of UK GDP. Financial services account for about 7% of UK national income and one-third of these services are exported to the EU.

July

The Coalition scraped in to government but with a new set of crossbench MPs to negotiate the passage of its agenda.

At Telstra, Chief Operating Officer Kate Mackenzie resigned after 7 major outages on the network this year.

August

The RBA kicked off reporting season by cutting the cash rate to 1.5%.

CBA reported cash earnings of $9,450 million keeping its annual dividend flat at $4.20 per share.

Junior telco Vocus reported its full year result and provided one of the more hip company mantras: 1. Be a clever company, no muppets; 2. Have a crack; 3. Don’t screw the customer; 4. Don’t be a d!@khead (sic).

September

Rio Tinto Iron Ore boss Andrew Harding left the company after 24 years and went to become the CEO of rail transport company, Aurizon.

JB Hi-Fi paid $870 million to acquire The Good Guys.

The Port of Melbourne privatisation went to a consortium for $9.7 billion for a 50-year lease. China’s $200 billion sovereign wealth fund CIC Capital took a 20% stake.

The South Australian power network was knocked out by a storm creating a huge furore over the wisdom of its renewable energy strategy.

For the first time in 8 years, OPEC agreed to cut oil production although tit would take until December to finalise the deal.

October

NSW Premier Mike Baird back flipped on his decision to shut the greyhound racing industry in the state. The decision would play a role in the loss of the seat of Orange in a subsequent by-election.

Catherine Livingstone was announced as the next chairman of the CBA. She had relinquished the chairman’s role at Telstra earlier in the year. In other noteworthy appointments, Antonio Guterres was made UN Secretary General, not Kevin Rudd. Bob Dylan was given a Nobel Prize for Literature adding to his Pulitzer Prize in 2008.

Gaming companies Tabcorp and Tatts Group finally announced a merger after years of such speculation. The $11.3 billion deal is yet to receive regulatory approval.

The NSW government sold a 50.4% stake in its electricity company Ausgrid for $16.189 billion in an unsolicited bid from AustralianSuper and IFM.

The board of S Kidman & Co accepted a $386.5 million offer from Hancock Prospecting and Shanghai CRED. Hancock Prospecting had already spent more than $200 million this year acquire six other cattle station properties in the Northern Territory and the Kimberley. The Kidman properties total approximately 10 million hectares or around 1.5% of Australia’s land mass or just over half the size of the state of Victoria.

November

Defying the polls and to the surprise of many, Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in the race to the White House. President Obama had called him “uniquely unqualified” to be President as even his own Republican Party mostly abandoned his campaign.

The 10-year US yield immediately began rising as the US (and other) stock markets first dropped precipitously then recovered.

A 7.8 magnitude earthquake shook central New Zealand causing damage to the capital city, Wellington. A similar size quake devastated Christchurch in 2011 which cost the country NZ$45 billion. Japan also copped a 7.4 earthquake off the coast of Fukushima in eerily similar circumstances to its 2011 disaster though the damage was far less severe.

The Dow Jones Industrial Index crossed 19,000 for the very first time.

So here we are in December 2016 wondering what left field events will occur in 2017. The Chicago Cubs broke a 108-year drought to win a World baseball title in 2016. Ireland beat the All Blacks for the very first time in 111 years of trying. Leicester City won England’s Premiere League title for the very first time. The Western Bulldogs and the Cronulla Sharks won the AFL and NRL titles after long droughts.

OK, so that is all sporting events, but business can be just as unpredictable.

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