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Top 14 Stories of '14: Mergers, Breakups, Ebola, Hackers..

A look back at 14 of the hottest topics in 2014, on Wall Street and beyond

Dec 12, 2014 at 11:46 AM
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2014 was the year of cyberattacks, big mergers, bigger IPOs, Ebola, black gold, and cringe-worthy elevator footage. Overall, it was a good year for the market, and we hope it was a profitable year for our friends in the investment community and beyond. That said, let's see where we stand and how far we've come in the past year. Here are 14 of the hottest topics in '14:

1. Stocks Hit Record Highs

The S&P 500 Index (SPX) -- our broad-market barometer -- is on pace for a year-over-year gain of 9.1%, and explored record-high territory just last week. The tech-rich Nasdaq Composite (COMP) is poised to finish 2014 12% higher, and is just off its 14-year peak, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJI) is headed for its sixth straight year-over-year gain -- a feat accomplished just one other time since 1900, during the '90s tech boom -- up 5.1%.

2. Economy On the Mend

On the economic front, we still have room for improvement -- inflation remains short of the Fed's mark, though the central bank officially ended quantitative easing in October -- but things are looking up, especially regarding employment. November marked the 50th straight month of job growth, and the unemployment rate sits at 5.8%. In fact, the U.S. labor market is on pace for its best year since 1999, and the Federal Reserve expects the economy to continue growing at "a moderate pace."

3. Women Make History

Speaking of the Fed, Janet Yellen made history in early January, taking over for Ben Bernanke as the head of the central bank. Among other women making strides, Yahoo! Inc. (NASDAQ:YHOO) is charting decade-plus highs under the guidance of CEO Marissa Mayer, Pakistan's Malala Yousafzai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize at 17 -- the youngest recipient ever -- and Mo'ne Davis threw a shutout in the Little League World Series.

Women in business also weren't deterred by Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) CEO Satya Nadella's gaffe in October, where he advised trusting in "karma" instead of asking for a raise (he later recanted). The feminist revival was also evident at Walt Disney Co (NYSE:DIS), as female-bond-driven Frozen became the highest-grossing animated movie of all time, and was the top-selling album on Apple Inc.'s (NASDAQ:AAPL) iTunes.

Beyonce, meanwhile, became the top-earning woman in music after dropping a surprise blockbuster album (ahem, while her sister dropped Jay-Z in an elevator). Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, Meghan Trainor, and Iggy Azalea's proverbial stocks skyrocketed, and women dominated the Billboard top five for the first time ever.

4. Drama in Washington

Of course, it wasn't a banner year for all women. General Motors Company (NYSE:GM) CEO Mary Barra breached the "glass ceiling" (or the "steel ceiling," according to Hillary Clinton) only to be met by a stone-faced Congress. The newly appointed CEO testified on Capitol Hill several times regarding the company's now-notorious string of recalls. Kathleen Sebelius also had a rough year, stepping down as the health and human services secretary after a much-maligned, glitchy rollout.

The "Obamacare" website -- the butt of many a "Saturday Night Live" spoof -- likely contributed to the downfall of Democrats in D.C. In November, Republicans swept the floor in midterm elections, and hopes of a more pro-business atmosphere gave stocks a lift. In response, President Barack Obama went rogue and signed a highly debated executive order on immigration.

5. Ebola Fears Spike

Obama also made history by appointing an "Ebola czar" -- Ron Klain -- in mid-October, at the height of the Ebola crisis. The first confirmed case of Ebola hit the wires on Oct. 1, and the residual fears translated into a boon for drugmakers like Tekmira Pharmaceuticals Corporation (NASDAQ:TKMR) and hazmat suit makers like Lakeland Industries, Inc. (NASDAQ:LAKE).

6. Turmoil Abroad

While residents of West Africa were fighting the deadly virus -- and, for a group of 275 Nigerian schoolgirls, fighting Boko Haram militants -- those in Eastern Europe and the Middle East were just fighting. Russia voted to annex Crimea from Ukraine in mid-March, prompting conflict between the countries -- and subsequent economic sanctions from and passive-aggressive jabs at the West. Russian separatists were also accused of shooting down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine in mid-July, just months after Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared on its way to Beijing.

The deaths of three Israeli youths -- attributed to members of Hamas -- over the summer opened old wounds in Gaza. And amid all the Ice Bucket Challenges -- which reportedly raised over $100 million for Lou Gehrig's Disease -- social media took a dark turn with ISIS's "Message to America," wherein the terrorist group beheaded American journalist James Foley on video.

7. Tensions at Home

Back at home, tensions flared after Michael Brown was shot and killed in Ferguson, Missouri, in early August, and national riots ensued after a grand jury failed to indict Officer Darren Wilson. In the same vein, the police killing of Eric Garner in New York -- which also resulted in no indictment -- fanned the flames earlier this month, and a handful of professional athletes voiced their opinions by donning "I Can't Breathe" t-shirts.

8. Sports Stars Make Headlines

Among them was LeBron "King" James, who was mostly forgiven by jilted Cleveland fans after returning to the Cavaliers from the Miami Heat. Meanwhile, Yankees great and future Hall of Famer Derek Jeter said farewell to great reception, and U.S. goalie Tim Howard inked an endorsement deal with Nike Inc (NYSE:NKE) -- and lit up the Twitter-sphere -- after notching 16 saves in a heartbreaking World Cup loss to Belgium (Germany went on to win, eliminating host country Brazil).

In less encouraging sports news, incidents of domestic violence -- and more unfortunate elevator footage -- had the NFL questioning its policies, and prompted suspensions of high-profile running backs Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson. Furthermore, Bob Costas contracted the most public case of pinkeye ever, nearly overshadowing the Sochi Winter Olympics.

9. Breakups and Breakdowns

Costas may one day support the European Union's decision in May to uphold the "right to be forgotten," much to Google Inc's (NASDAQ:GOOGL) dismay. The same could be said for activist investor Bill Ackman, whose much-hyped presentation -- which promised to reveal Herbalife Ltd. (NYSE:HLF) as a pyramid scheme -- sent the stock skyrocketing in July.

Fellow elite investor Bill Gross also made headlines after jumping the Pimco ship for Janus Capital Group Inc (NYSE:JNS) in late September. Other notable splits include Hewlett-Packard Company (NYSE:HPQ), which in October said it'd divide and conquer, and later that month Procter & Gamble Co (NYSE:PG) announced it would spin off Duracell.

Also left at the altar in 2014 was Britain's Shire PLC (ADR) by AbbVie Inc (NYSE:ABBV), as fresh regulations on tax inversions prompted the American drugmaker to back out of the deal. Pfizer Inc. (NYSE:PFE) also abandoned a bid for AstraZeneca plc (ADR) (NYSE:AZN), and Hasbro, Inc. (NASDAQ:HAS) fell out of love with DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc (NASDAQ:DWA).

A handful of companies also filed for bankruptcy, including Bitcoin bigwig Mt. Gox and sapphire glass supplier GT Advanced Technologies Inc.

10. Product Launches

The latter filed in early October after getting jilted by AAPL, which unveiled two versions of the iPhone 6 and a new "smart watch" -- and debuted Apple Pay -- in the fourth quarter. Not to be outdone, rival BlackBerry Ltd (NASDAQ:BBRY) revealed its Passport just a few weeks later.

11. Weddings and Engagements

But not all fell apart on the M&A front this year. Among some of the noteworthy partnerships: Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) bought WhatsApp for a whopping $19.4 billion; Halliburton Company (NYSE:HAL) proposed to Baker Hughes Incorporated (NYSE:BHI); and Burger King Worldwide Inc (NYSE:BKW) set a date with Tim Hortons Inc. (USA) (NYSE:THI) just months after fast food chains were plagued by China's "tainted meat scandal." Outside of corporate America, "Kimye" and "Brangelina" tied the knot, as well as same-sex couples in 35 states.

12. Big-Time Hacks

However, those who bought wedding gifts at Nieman Marcus might've had their credit and debit card information stolen. In retrospect, the Target Corporation (NYSE:TGT) hack late last year was ominous, as blue chips Home Depot Inc (NYSE:HD) and JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE:JPM), as well as Sony Corp (ADR) (NYSE:SNE), were among the companies hit by cyberattacks.

13. IPO Boom

One of the biggest stories of the year, however, was the record-breaking IPO of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd (NYSE:BABA) in mid-September, with the Chinese e-commerce concern raising roughly $25 billion. Tech companies overall -- including Wall Street freshman GoPro Inc (NASDAQ:GPRO), which debuted in early April -- raised nearly $39 billion year-to-date, the most since the dot-com boom, according to Dealogic.

14. Oil Tanks

As we near the end of the year, commodities stocks are making headlines. Crude oil prices are plumbing five-year lows, which have weighed on big-cap oil-and-gas stocks like Chevron Corporation (NYSE:CVX), while bolstering fuel-dependent Southwest Airlines Co (NYSE:LUV) and its airline peers.

Thanks for joining us on our stroll down memory lane. We hope your 2015 is even better than 2014-- your trades profitable, your home life full of cheer, and your elevator rides uneventful.


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