The winners and losers you read about elsewhere in the 2011 special report are chosen after careful analysis and consideration of the subject’s impact on world events or newsworthiness. Mostly. But for any number of reasons, not everything makes the cut. Because we can, here are personal takes from various Canadian Business staff writers on who (or what) really deserves the title of winner or loser.
The prison sentence. The face tattoo. The ear chomp. For a long time, there wasn’t a lot to like about the former heavyweight champion. Then came The Hangover and it seemed Mike Tyson might be ready for a second act. But app maker? The Mike Tyson: Main Event iPhone app game has seen more than 1.6-million downloads since its early-2011 release and been praised by techies and Snoop Dogg alike. Tyson himself was featured at the SXSW music festival and even teamed with drink brand Sobe for in-game contests. In November he took some time out from tossing bon mots out to his 1.2-million Twitter followers to play Republican presidential wannabe Herman Cain for Funny or Die. No telling what’s next, but we’ll be watching.
Mars Needs Moms
After two years in production and a final cost of $150 million, the Disney-branded Robert Zemeckis flick was panned by critics and took in just under $7 million on its opening weekend, grossing a total of $39 million worldwide. Some blame bad word of mouth over social media for its poor performance, while others say its motion-capture animation style gave people the creeps. Either way, it’s one of the biggest flops in Hollywood history.
Lagarde wasn’t everyone’s first choice to head the International Monetary Fund when Dominique Strauss-Kahn resigned. Canada, for example, supported Mexican central bank chief Agustin Carstens. But Lagarde, a former finance minister in France, overcame doubts about her qualifications and experience—she’s a lawyer by training, not an economist—and secured the post in June, becoming the first woman to hold the position. The IMF is a crucial institution in dealing with the euro zone quagmire, making Lagarde one of its most influential players. Under her stewardship, the IMF has become less rigid. It recently announced the most flexible loan agreements in its history, allowing troubled nations to borrow funds with fewer policy demands. Such flexibility could prove useful in response to crisis.
Keystone XL lobbyists
Securing approval for the massive pipeline should have been a cakewalk. The United States is desperate to reduce its dependence on oil from the Middle East, and is facing an intractable unemployment problem. Allowing for the construction of a pipeline carrying crude oil from friendly Canada down to Texas could have addressed both issues. But the lobbyists employed by TransCanada Corp., the pipeline’s operator, allowed the debate to be framed by environmental groups and landowners opposed to Keystone XL. As a result, the U.S. government postponed making a decision for at least a year. True, the project had the misfortune to come in advance of the presidential election, but successfully navigating complex political situations is precisely what lobbyists are paid to do.
Stricken by a sovereign debt crisis, Europe needs help. The euro zone, for example, wants foreign investment in the European Financial Stability Fund to support bankrupt members. During the past century its traditional rescuer would normally have been America. But with the U.S. suffering its own fiscal crisis, Europe instead increasingly looks to China, which for years has enjoyed a stronger economy and burgeoning trade surplus. Should China choose to bail out Europe, it would doubtlessly extract considerable concessions in its favour. Even if it opts out, the very request is symbolic of a monumental power shift.
As Africa’s longest-serving autocrat, his power (but not his erratic behaviour, nor his human rights abuses) went largely unchallenged. In early 2011 he had all the trappings of autocracy, including mansions and a private jet. He’d even managed to mend relations with Western states and was courted by multinational oil giants. But all that was before unrest swept across the Arab world and Libyan rebels fought to topple him. Appalled by his bellicose rhetoric and eager to wind up on the right side of history, his former foreign allies abandoned him and bombed his loyalists. After months spent as a fugitive, Gadhafi was killed in his hometown of Sirte on Oct. 20.
A reunion was held in September in Edmonton for the founders, backers and alumni of the now-defunct Alberta Report magazine, which, 25 years ago, helped spawn the Reform movement. The resulting Reform Party would progressively draw dissident Westerners away from Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservatives, form the official Opposition, come to lead a united right, defeat the Liberals and finally this year make its long-standing priorities—Senate reform, tougher criminal justice, free markets—Canada’s priorities as a majority government. Harper, who started as a policy adviser to Reform leader Preston Manning, has come a long way.
The bunga bunga party is over. The billionaire media baron who came to power promising to make Italy an EU powerhouse instead presided over 17 years of economic stagnation, corruption and sex scandals—and no progress chipping away at a debt burden greater than the country’s GDP. The wily Berlusconi used up his ninth political life attempting to forestall a financial crisis brought on by rising interest rates on that debt. Bond yields dropped the day he left office.
Shares of EA, one of the biggest video game publishers in the world, have skyrocketed over the past year to $26.13 a pop from $14.80. Alone, numbers like those are enough to call the company a winner in 2012. What’s more, EA is only weeks away from releasing one of the industry’s most ambitious titles ever—Star Wars: The Old Republic. Built by Canadian developer BioWare (acquired by EA in 2007), the most obvious comparison to this multiplayer online role-playing game is Activision Blizzard’s World of Warcraft, which consistently rakes in well over a billion dollars per year. Rumours abound that EA’s game could be the most expensive ever made, but a company spokesperson said earlier this year that it would only need about 500,000 subscribers to be profitable. To put that into perspective, World of Warcraft peaked at around 12 million, and still has north of 10 million.
When most people think of dying browsers, they think of Internet Explorer. Soon, Firefox might be added to that list. Firefox lost ground in 2011, following a pretty level 2010—and the cause is crystal clear. According to StatCounter, between November 2010 and November 2011, Firefox’s usage share dropped to 25.25% from 31.17%. Meanwhile, Google Chrome jumped to 25.49% from 13.35%, and continues to make serious gains every month. It’s also worth noting that Internet Explorer lost close to 8% in that time period, which should be a surprise to no one.
Newfoundland and Labrador
Thanks to high oil prices and the unexpected production of a whopping 19-million extra barrels of oil, Canada’s most easterly province brought in a budget surplus of $755 million as of the mid-year update. This brought provincial debt levels to their lowest level in 12 years. To protect against a decline in oil, Deputy Finance Minister Terry Paddon recently expressed optimism that the discussion surrounding next year’s budget would explore other industries where the province can foster growth in the coming decades.
Shooting pressurized fluid into the ground to release petroleum, natural gas and other substances may be effective and lucrative, but it also “massacres” the environment, according to French President Nicolas Sarkozy and numerous studies released this year. France banned the practice outright in 2011, while in Canada Quebec has suspended it. Some Maritime provinces are considering doing the same, with review results due early next year. Fracking has been linked to earthquakes, groundwater contamination, and increased radioactivity.
With the arrival of Apple’s iCloud, all the big players are now in the market, including Google, Microsoft and Amazon. While cloud storage/computing has been around for several years, it has largely been the preserve of B2B, obscure industry conferences and tech nerds who want to be “first!” But mainstream exposure via Apple’s massive installed base of tablets and phones means the cloud just got its paradigm shift.
It’s dead-ish, Jim. Adobe in November announced it would cease support for Flash on mobile devices and explicitly conceded HTML5 was the “best solution.” Sure, Adobe says it will continue to develop for Flash on the desktop, but who uses those anymore? It’s an ironic bookend to Internet history—one last bit of “magic” worked by the late Steve Jobs from beyond the grave.
America should thank its lucky stars and stripes. The now infamous S&P downgrade to U.S. debt was supposed to be a wake up to anyone who sees greenback-denominated assets as a safe-haven during a financial crisis. When that didn’t happen, alarm bells should have gone off as soon as the U.S. debt clock ticked past US$4 trillion in November and Washington’s so-called budget-cutting super committee still couldn’t motivate itself into action. Anyone who knows anything about economics knows Uncle Sam has a bill in the mail and it is a whopper. But the mailman has been on strike. After all, with more immediate problems in Europe and Japan and restrictions on China’s yuan, there is simply no other place to for panicked money to go unless they buy gold, which has nothing whatsoever backing its jump in value this year other than fear.
A botched bond auction in late November by the European Union’s largest and strongest economy shows Germany has caught a bad strain of fiscal swine flu from the EU’s so-called economic PIIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain). The nation’s bond issues have fallen short numerous times this year. But the latest shortfall was materially larger. Billed as a call for action aimed at Chancellor Angela Merkel, the failed attempt to attract buyers for German debt stems from concerns over just how far the nation of beer and sausage will go when it comes to picking up obligations of other EU nations. Calls for Germany to forget bailing out its trading partners and simply ditch the euro are rising. The problem, of course, is that a German exit from the 17-nation euro zone would hammer the economy by driving up the price of national exports while destroying the purchasing power of the country’s EU trading partners. Another round of global financial turmoil caused by currency chaos in Europe wouldn’t improve the situation, either.