Attempting to reflect such an extraordinary year with just a handful of our own front pages was always going to be difficult, but I thought we’d give it a go.
The front page of City A.M. is (to borrow a phrase from our marketing department) the front door of our brand. The choice of splash, as it’s known, tells you about our priorities, our judgement, our values and – occasionally – our sense of humour. 2016 has allowed for (and called for) some powerful front page stories, covering not just the major events of the year but also the ways in which the City has reacted.
From geopolitical earthquakes to the minor market tremors, we’ve tried to remain true to our founding principles: to cover the forces and the people that define our business and economic landscape.
It’s true that 2016 has been a year of shocks, but I cannot share the view that this has been a year of disaster or decline. Indeed, it has been a year in which we saw over 600,000 new businesses launch – a third of which are here in
London. It’s been a year of social and scientific progress, of technological innovation and wonderful creative endeavour. Across the world, hunger, poverty and illiteracy rates continue their dramatic decline. We measure political and economic change in hours and seconds, but if we can use the Christmas break to find a sense of perspective then there’s a good chance of starting the new year in high spirits.
Thank you for picking us up in the morning, and I wish you all a very happy Christmas.
Cast your mind back to a time when David Cameron was Prime Minister, his best pal was chancellor and Boris was still (officially, at least) the mayor of London. China was still reeling from the shocks it endured at the end of 2015 but this didn’t deter Osborne from a bullish approach to relations with the Asian powerhouse. Oil began the year languishing around $35 and the race for City Hall got underway.
David Cameron was busy putting together his new EU deal, though even his friends now concede it didn’t amount to much. Boris Johnson swung behind the Brexit cause, to the delight of Leave campaigners and the horror of Downing St. The City of London Corporation also weighed into the EU debate, voting to officially back the Remain campaign in a move which infuriated the City’s small but vocal band of eurosceptics. The London Stock Exchange and Deutsche Boerse began a ‘third time lucky’ attempt to hook-up, in a deal that’s now progressing through regulatory hurdles. HSBC confirmed its HQ will remain in the UK and markets continued to endure volatility with the FTSE 100 hitting its year low of 5,536 on February 11.
London’s long-awaited Night Tube moved a step closer as unions backed a generous pay deal. Oil hit the dizzy height of $40 per barrel and Osborne’s last budget ‘kicked the can down the road’ as far as deficit reduction goes, focusing instead on a range of giveaways and the introduction of a new tax on sugary drinks. Tata’s struggling UK steel operations threatened thousands of jobs and convicted Libor trader Tom Hayes revealed he’d lost nearly £1m while trading to fund his defence. Also in March, the controversial senior managers’ regime came into force across UK banks and on the 22nd Belgium was hit by three coordinated suicide bombings, killing 32 people and injuring hundreds.
More than a few people took seriously our April Fools story on the City of London drawing up plans for independence in the event of Brexit. Meanwhile, the so-called Panama Papers hit the news, with global tax authorities vowing to take action. The Intercontinental Exchange threatened to crash the LSE-DB deal. City A.M. hosted the first head-to-head mayoral debate between Zac Goldsmith and Sadiq Khan. BP’s Bob Dudley received a bloody nose from shareholders over his pay, and the Treasury was slammed over “alarmist and desperate” Brexit economic forecasts. The FTSE smashed through 6,400 and retailers BHS and Austin Reed were revealed to be on the brink of collapse.
Sadiq Khan won the London mayoralty, Mark Carney infuriated Brexiteers with his warnings over a recession and MPs kicked off their probe into BHS. London was revealed to have more multi-millionaires than any other city, but the banking sector continued to struggle against headwinds and the Hinkley Point row rumbled on.
David Cameron and Michael Gove made a direct appeal to City A.M. readers on polling day, and the UK voted to leave the EU by 52 per cent to 48, triggering a political earthquake. Also in June, BHS shut up shop, Sports Direct’s Mike Ashley was slammed by MPs, and Boris crashed out of the Tory leadership race. Tragically, Labour’s Jo Cox was murdered on 16 June.
City law firm Mishcon de Reya began setting out its clients’ case against the triggering of Article 50, in a row which currently sits before the Supreme Court. Three ex-Barclays bankers were convicted over the Libor scandal, the Labour party descended into civil war as MPs moved to challenge Jeremy Corbyn, Japan’s Softbank swooped for UK tech darling Arm Holdings in a £24bn mega-deal and London City Airport was given the green light for expansion. Theresa May replaced David Cameron as Prime Minister and promised to make a success of Brexit. Meanwhile, the City began organising – with new Brexit-focused lobby groups forming in a bid to secure the Square Mile’s interests.
People used to say the summer was a quiet time for news, though I’m not sure I’ve ever known that to be true. Bank governor Mark Carney unleashed a historic post-referendum stimulus. His critics say he over-reacted. Southern rail strikes heaped misery on commuters, Uber challenged London’s regulations in the High Court, the PM set her sights on executive pay and the FTSE flirted with 7,000. Meanwhile, good economic news just kept on coming, with August revealing a surge in the services sector. London also took the top spot in PwC’s Global Cities of Opportunity report. City A.M. also exclusively revealed new details surrounding West Ham’s sweetheart deal for the Olympic Stadium.
Recession fears faded quickly over the summer, and in September the OECD became the latest body of experts to row back on Brexit warnings. British firm Micro Focus unveiled a $9bn bid for the software arm of US giant HP, hiring remained buoyant across UK firms, Theresa May gave the green light to Hinkley Point and Jean Claude Junker said in his State of the Union address that he’d never known the EU to be less united. The PM held talks on Wall St with US banks over Brexit, West End shops boomed thanks to the weak pound and troubled German lender Deutsche saw its share price sink as EU banks slashed 20,000 jobs.
Theresa May wrapped up the Tory party conference with a speech that set alarm bells ringing in the City – and across Europe. She pledged to clamp down on immigration and make life tough for the “citizens of nowhere” – also known as the City’s top dogs. The IMF U-turned on its Brexit warnings, business confidence hit pre-referendum levels, Mars gobbled up Warren Buffett’s stake in Wrigley, Brent crude nudged north of $50 a barrel and arguments raged over what kind of access the UK will get to the EU’s Single Market. The Bank of England warned that the EU simply cannot replicate the City’s success and the government announced its backing for expansion at Heathrow airport – in the face of stiff opposition.
If you hear people joining in the lament that 2016 was the worst year ever, they’re probably talking about the shock victory of Donald Trump – another political event that turned (and continues to turn) the world on its head. Get used to it, is all I can say. Meanwhile, retailer Sports Direct was ridiculed for bugging a meeting of MPs at its headquarters, London retained the No1 spot in a ranking of European cities best for startups, the PM unveiled a so-called 21st century industrial strategy, the London mayor’s new night czar got off on the wrong foot with a series of foul tweets, chancellor Philip Hammond scrapped George Osborne’s targets and rules, Skyscanner was snapped up for £1.4bn by the Chinese and Opec struck a deal.
The government rules out giving a running commentary on its Brexit strategy but plans are emerging that could see the UK continue to pay into the EU budget in exchange for market access. The Italian Prime Minister resigns after losing a referendum on constitutional reform and Italy’s banking sector takes a beating amid the political uncertainty. The City of London is revealed to have contributed a record amount in taxes to the exchequer, spreadbetters’ share prices take a hammering after the FCA announces a crackdown, Port Talbot’s steel plant is saved in a £1bn deal, Murdoch swoops for Sky, UK growth forecasts are revised upwards, Philip Hammond backs transitional Brexit arrangements, and EU firms call for continued access to the UK market. December 21: FTSE at 7,041 and Brent Crude at $55.