Cheap Oil and Pricey Unicorns: The 20 Biggest Business Stories of 2015
Business + Economy

Cheap Oil and Pricey Unicorns: The 20 Biggest Business Stories of 2015


From the Apple Watch to a new Star Wars movie to the demise of the Keystone Pipeline, 2015 has been another remarkable year for corporate America. There have been highs, like the five percent unemployment, and lows, like the federal investigation into Valeant Pharmaceuticals. Below are the biggest business stories that dominated headlines over the past year.    


Oil Prices: The oil industry is in the midst of its most severe decline since the 1990s, caused by the plummeting price of a barrel of oil that’s been slashed in half since June 2014. Oil prices are so slow due to the strong dollar, an oversupplied market and the mild winter in much of the U.S.

M&As: This year was the biggest year ever for M&As in the U.S., with $4.7 trillion of deals signed. The largest health-care transaction and the second biggest deal on record was Pfizer’s $160 billion merger with Allergan. Other notable deals of the year include Dell’s $67 billion acquisition of EMC and Anheuser-Busch’s $108 billion merger with SABMiller.

Related: What’s Driving Corporate America’s Merger Mania?

China: The industrial-goods sector in China slid into a recession over the past year and is likely to remain in one for at least another year, amid a deceleration of the country’s economy. Some of the country’s efforts to reinvigorate the economy include a surprise devaluation of the yuan over the summer and the Chinese central bank cutting interest rates six times over the past year.

Yahoo: In early December, Yahoo announced it would abandon its yearlong rescue plan to spin off its stake in Alibaba into a holding company, instead saying that it would spin off its core Internet business. The news comes as a blow to CEO Marissa Meyer who had pitched the Alibaba spinoff as part of her strategy to turnaround the struggling internet giant. 

Interest Rates: After months of speculation, the Federal Reserve decided to raise interest rates on Dec. 16 from near zero to between 0.25 and 0.5 percent in the first hike since December 2008. The move signals that Fed officials see a stable U.S. economy that’s made enough progress since the Great Recession to warrant a gradual shift away from easy money.

Flash Crash: On Monday, Aug. 24, the stock market experienced its first flash crash since May 2010. In the day’s first five minutes of trading, the Dow plunged about 1,100 points – its biggest drop in history. The plunge was caused by global financial events, including the Greek default and China’s market instability.

Google: Google, the world’s most valuable Internet company, announced over the summer that it was undergoing a corporate restructuring. Part of the plan included the creation of a new umbrella company called Alphabet that as of October oversees a number of smaller companies, including Google.

Related: 9 Ways McDonald’s Wants to Get You Excited About Its Food Again

Amazon: The New York Times published a damming article in August about the workplace environment at the e-commerce giant Amazon, characterizing it as a cutthroat and unforgiving employer. Amazon refuted the claims, questioning the sources for the Times and anecdotes that were included in the article.

Theranos: Once seen as a disruptor of the medical diagnostics industry, Theranos was blown out of the water on Oct. 15, when The Wall Street Journal published an article that reported the company wasn’t using its own products and technology to analyze a majority of the blood tests it was conducting for consumers. Theranos and its embattled founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes are now fighting critics and working to prove the technology works as promised.

McDonald’s: In early October, McDonald’s announced that it was finally rolling out the much-anticipated all-day breakfast as part of the fast food giant’s effort to reverse three years of dismal sales. Two months in and the strategic move appears to be working. A new study from the NPD Group found that one-third of customers who purchased breakfast after the traditional breakfast hours between the launch of the new initiative and early December hadn’t visited the chain at all in the month prior.

Turing Pharmaceuticals: Turing Pharmaceuticals and its CEO Martin Shkreli were under intense scrutiny in September after the company bumped the price of the toxoplasmosis treatment Daraprim by over 5000 percent, from $13.50 to $750 per tablet. Even after enormous public backlash, the company still refuses to lower the price of the drug, though it did say that it would cut the cost for some hospitals and use other means to help patients afford the medicine. Unrelated to the drug pricing issues, Shkreli was arrested in mid-December on securities fraud charges.

Volkswagen: In one of the biggest corporate scandals in recent years, news emerged in September that Volkswagen installed software in nearly 11 million diesel vehicles worldwide that could cheat on nitrogen oxide emissions tests. Germany’s largest automaker will need to recall about 500,000 cars in the U.S. and around 8.5 million in Europe. Sales in the U.S. for Volkswagen fell 15 percent in November, despite a spike in overall demand for new cars.   

Related: Obamacare May Lose UnitedHealth: Will It Hurt?

Ashley Madison: Over the summer, hackers leaked the personal information of 32 million users of the extramarital affairs website Ashley Madison. About 10,000 American government officials had accounts, as well as a few celebrities and clergymen. Blackmailers are now reportedly targeting those who had their information exposed, threatening to expose them to friends and family unless they pay up.  

UnitedHealth Group: The nation’s largest health insurer, UnitedHealth Group, announced in November that it is pulling back on marketing its Obamacare exchange plans and is considering withdrawing entirely from the program. Although UnitedHealth only has 550,000 people covered by ACA health plans, the move could be an indication that the exchange isn’t viable for large, well-established insurers.

Taylor Swift & Apple: Pop singer Taylor Swift penned an open letter to Apple over the summer that criticized the world’s most valuable technology company for not paying musical artists royalties during the free three-month trial period on its new streaming-music service. Less than 24 hours after the letter was released online, Apple executive Eddy Cue announced that the company had reversed its position and that artists would be paid during the trial period.

Walmart: Over the past year, Walmart’s stock has dropped nearly 30 percent. The world’s largest retailer is struggling to keep up with e-commerce giants like Amazon that are stealing its customer base. Walmart is pouring money into improving its own e-commerce business, but investors are worried that online sales will take away business from brick-and-mortar stores. Money is also being put towards revamping traditional stores and making them more attractive and easier to navigate for customers.

Uber: One of the most famous members of the “unicorn club,” Uber is now more valuable than 80 percent of the companies in the S&P 500. The car-booking startup is currently seeking to raise about $2.1 billion in a financing round that would bump its valuation up to $62.5 billion, making it larger than Dow Chemical, BlackRock and Netflix. Uber is profitable in more than 80 cities around the globe and has increased U.S. gross revenue by 200 percent this year.

Airbnb: Another member of the Unicorn club, Airbnb saw its valuation skyrocket to $25.5 billion from $10 billion at the beginning of the year, after a $1.5 billion financing round in June. The home-rental service is now the world’s third most valuable privately held startup, following Uber (valued at $62.5 billion) and Xiaomi ($46 billion).

Facebook: As of Facebook’s third quarter this year, the social media giant had 1.55 billion users and $4.5 billion in revenue, up 11.3 percent from $4.04 billion during the second quarter. And there’s no sign that Facebook will hit a slowdown anytime soon, as the platform is continually evolving, especially with its growing news sector and mobile ads. Co-founder and chief executive of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, announced in early December that he and his wife would give 99 percent of their Facebook shares to their new charitable organization, called the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

Hewlett Packard: The computing giant Hewlett Packard split into two companies in early November in order to compete in a technology market that is rapidly evolving. Hewlett-Packard Enterprise now concentrates on selling hardware to corporate data centers and HP Inc. is focused on the PC and printing business.