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The 10 Largest News Stories of 2018


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These are the 10 top new stories of 2018 with links to the different topics. In some cases we have entire forums for just the theme mentioned.

Feel free to nominate a story below or elaborate on a story thread elsewhere

Here goes:

10. A Transportation Revolution

Tired: Ride-hailing

Wired: E-scooters

Who would have thought that the next big thing to invade U.S. cities after acai bowls would be...scooters? Turns out they're an affordable and effective way to zip around. Also turns out they can be lucrative for businesses—startups Bird and Lime came out of nowhere to both raise venture capital at multibillion-dollar valuations. 

The big question for 2019: How will cities regulate what some consider a serious nuisance? 

Zoom out: Incumbents are keeping a close eye on the up-and-comers. Uber bought bike sharing company Jump as part of its shift from a pure-play ride-hailer to an all-encompassing "urban mobility platform," as CEO Dara Khosrowshahi calls it. 

And talk about a cliffhanger...Uber and Lyft both closed out the year by filing for IPOs.

 

MUSK

9. Elon Musk’s Crazy Year

It started in August, when Elon Musk tweeted, "Am considering taking Tesla private at $420. Funding secured." What followed was 1) a content windfall for finance meme accounts 2) a wicked ride for Tesla stock and 3) some legal shots fired from the SEC.

Musk eventually settled those fraud charges (he and Tesla had to fork over $20 million each), but..."I want to be clear. I do not respect the SEC," he saidthis month.

At the end of the year, Elon may very well come out on top. Tesla stock has managed to recover from a few 20% sell-offs, and could close out 2018 up slightly for the year. Plus, Tesla was profitable in Q3, came close to hitting critical Model 3 production targets, and announced plans to expand in China.

         

CLIMATE

8. Extreme Weather Causes Extreme Damage

Hurricanes, wildfires, and other major weather events took hundreds of lives and caused record-setting damage across the U.S. Insured losses from California's November wildfires totaled at least $9 billion, and the Camp Fire alone took down nearly 19,000 structures in northern California.

Zoom out: The business world also started to take the threat of climate change more seriously, from energy firms like Shell (tying executive pay to emissions) to automakers like Volkswagen (investing tens of billions in electrification). Still, critics say they aren't going far or fast enough.

The implications: A U.S. government report released on Black Friday warned that climate change could shave 10% off the country's GDP by the end of the 21st century. 

         

RISKY BIZ

7. What Goes Up (and Down): Cannabis and Cryptocurrency

What went up? Cannabis. Three red states voted in favor of legalizationmeasures and plenty of pro-legalization candidates took the keys to governors' mansions in midterm elections. And what's up Canada.

On Wall Street, everyone was talking about pot stocks, from Tilray to Cronos. While some marijuana exchange-traded funds didn't exactly blow it out of the water, investments arrived from old-school companies including Altria and Molson Coors.

What went down? Crypto. A year ago, bitcoin came close to hitting $20,000...but by this month, it traded closer to about $4,000 under the harsh spotlight of increased regulation. That boom and bust, to some, is bubble-worthy.

In mid-December, the price of bitcoin fell below the cost to mine new assets...meaning bitcoin officially became unprofitable. It's now set to break a three-year winning streak.

         

ECONOMY

6. Trump Versus the Fed

We haven't seen a showdown like this since Gritty vs. Capitalism. President Trump definitely didn't hold back in his (increasingly hard-hitting) attacks on Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell this fall...

August: "I'm not thrilled with his raising of interest rates."

September: "Unfortunately, [the Fed] just raised interest rates a little bit because we are doing so well. I am not happy about that."

October: "I think the Fed is making a mistake. They're so tight. I think the Fed has gone crazy...I really disagree with what the Fed is doing, ok?"

November: "So far, I'm not even a little bit happy with my selection of Jay."

This is pretty unprecedented. While presidents have been annoyed with the central bank before, there's a decades-old tradition of keeping their opinions to themselves.

WORKFORCE

5. Employee Activism...Exploded

What was even more on-trend in Silicon Valley this year than vintage sneakers? Megaphones.

At Google...1) Some 20,000 workers participated in a walkout following a NYT report exposing the company's handling of sexual harassment allegations, and 2) hundreds of workers spoke out against a (now-ended) Google project to build a censored search engine in China.

At Amazon...employees told Jeff Bezos they opposed Amazon's sale of facial recognition technology to police.

At Microsoft...workers anonymously asked the company not to bid on a $10 billion Pentagon contract.

At Salesforce...there's a new "chief ethical and humane use officer" after employees spoke out against contracts with U.S. Border Patrol.

Zoom out: When highly prized tech talent speaks, companies listen. Recruitment is only half the battle...retention is another ball game.

         

INTERNATIONAL

4. Mohammed bin Salman’s Downfall

The hotshot Saudi Crown Prince (known as MBS) earned rave reviews from the West for his plan to modernize his kingdom's economy away from oil and toward high tech industries. And his spring break tour of the U.S.—where he met with Oprah, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and other A-listers—further solidified his image as a reformer. 

But that didn't last long. The CIA concluded MBS ordered the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul. And in the aftermath, corporate leaders including JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon pulled out of Saudi Arabia's major investment conference, nicknamed "Davos in the Desert." 

Why Saudi Arabia matters: It's one of the top oil producers in the world, the biggest customer for U.S. weapons, and the single largest funding source for U.S. startups. 

MARKETS

3. This Bull Market Is All but Over

Remember August 22? The bull market in stocks hit 3,453 days, making it the lengthiest to date. The words written by many finance gurus? "There's still room to run."

They quickly grabbed the Wite-Out. That's because we could be turning the corner on this nearly decade-long bull run. From September high to October low, the S&P 500 fell as much as 10.6%, the Dow 10.5%, and the Nasdaq 14.9%. An awful December only made things worse.

Stocks wiped out gains for 2018, hedge funds readied for their worst year since 2011, and household debt hit a record $13.5 trillion.

Bottom line: The bull market will *officially* go bear when stocks decline 20% from their recent highs, which happened to the Nasdaq this Friday. What could do the other indexes in? Many lose sleep over tightening Fed policy, the effects of the trade war, and slowing economic growth.

TECH

2. Big Tech, Big Scrutiny

Facebook took many shots on the chin, from its lax handling of user data...to its leaders' slow responses to scandals...to its waning revenue growth. Zuck and COO Sheryl Sandberg are finding it hard to win back trust, which plummeted after the Cambridge Analytica fiasco.

Google tried to lay low as Facebook took fire, but it too faced questions over monopoly power, data privacy, its now-defunct Chinese search engine project, and alleged political bias.

Amazon came under attack for its treatment of warehouse workers and a high-profile search for an HQ2 that many viewed as a ploy to secure billions in tax incentives.

Apple was successful in playing grown-up on the data privacy issue. But it's also grappling with a world in which smartphone demand has peaked.

         

TRADE

1. The Trade War 

President Trump built a wall in 2018. But it wasn't along the U.S.-Mexico border...it was a wall of tariffs dividing the U.S. from the rest of the world. This year, the trade war became reality.

The main target was China. Since July, the U.S. has imposed tariffs on $250 billion of Chinese imports, and China has retaliated with its own duties. They now have until March 1, 2019, to agree to a deal, or this conflict escalates.

But it's not just China: The U.S. took off the trade gloves with the EU, while Mexico, Canada, and the U.S. agreed to a Nafta rewrite (TBD if Congress passes it).

Businesses are feeling the effects: One study showed U.S. companies paid $1 billion more in tariffs annually on Chinese tech imports in October.

 

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