Page last updated at 21:36 GMT, Friday, 30 December 2005

2005: Business year in review

By Martin Webber
BBC World Business Report editor

Google chief executive Eric Schmidt
Google was constantly expanding.
2005 was the year that the big shots in business and finance finally decided it was safe to venture back into the risky world of the internet.

For evidence of that, you only have to look at the share price of Google, the world's favourite search engine.

The firm's shares, which started trading 18 months ago at $85, are ending the year at around $400.

That's a phenomenal rise.

A lot of optimistic assumptions about future profits underlie that share price, making the whole thing rather reminiscent of the first dotcom boom in the late 1990s, which burst so dramatically in 2000.

And yet things this time round do seem different.

On the march

The sheer speed and ease of Google's basic search are now taken for granted by 400 million users globally every month.

In the past year, Google has launched an astonishing range of new products, among them Google Earth, which allows you to call up detailed aerial views of anywhere on the planet.

Google logo
It is a very, very opaque company
Author John Battelle on Google

Then there is its project to put the text from every published book into its mighty computer brain.

Observers say Google's growing ubiquity has both pros and cons.

"I believe that overall, the people running Google have - what they believe to be - their customers and their company's best interest at heart," says John Battelle, the author of a book on Google.

"However, you cannot guarantee that the two will not conflict."

Mr Battelle says it is not totally clear how Google makes its money - and that could restrict its expansion in countries such as China trying to keep a tight rein on internet content.

"It is a very, very opaque company," he says. "And that lack of transparency is quite possibly the greatest weakness of Google."

Aluminium plant in Chongqing, China
China's rise as an economic power was a recurring theme

Despite the exceptional growth of companies such as Google, eBay and Yahoo, analysts warn that the popularity of internet companies with investors will be cyclical.

"I do think the success of Google and of surrounding stocks and so forth has certainly rekindled the exuberance that we had," says Henry Blodgett, a former Merill Lynch banker and internet expert.

"But nothing is going to the moon here, so diversification is critical."

Skid row

2005 has been a tough year for many of the world's most powerful companies, not least General Motors.

The world's biggest car company announced it would axe 30,000 jobs, a quarter of its North American workforce.

GM car plant in Canada
GM just builds too many of the same thing, over and over again
Cindi Millard, GM worker

GM has been weighed down by huge pension liabilities and healthcare obligations, but critics claim its problems are more deep-seated. For them, the firm is simply making the wrong cars.

"GM just builds too many of the same thing, over and over again," Cindi Millard, who works in a GM plant in Oklahoma City, told the BBC.

"I think they need to look for alternative fuel vehicles."

But the decline of GM doesn't mean Americans are turning away from buying cars.

By contrast, non-US firms are booming, with Mercedes, Honda and Toyota all making money in the US south.

The US economy is also having to adapt to China's emergence as a global economic power, a recurring theme in 2005.

Trading places

China's growth, which saw it overtake the US as the world's biggest consumer of grain, meat coal and steel, has been accompanied by a fierce debate about how much free trade the global economy can absorb.

Despite the benefits of lower prices and competitiveness, there are many who believe the quest to lower global trade barriers has had damaging environmental and cultural effects.

Bernie Ebbers, former Worldcom boss, convicted of fraud this year
I am proud of the work that I did at Worldcom
Bernie Ebbers during his trial

"If you have less subsidies and if the world price is not good, you will have less income and that is very bad for the future of the farmer," Arnold Presh Dalisack, a French farmer, told the BBC.

The world's thirst for oil to drive economic growth continued unabated in 2005.

With strong demand from Asia, global oil demand continued to outpace supply, sending prices spiralling.

They hit a peak of more than $70 a barrel when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico.

But the overall economic impact ended up being limited and prices eased back to the $60 mark by year-end.

End of the line

The conviction of Bernie Ebbers - the former boss of Worldcom - after the biggest accounting fraud trial in US history marked the end of an astonishing rags-to-riches-and-back-to-rags story.

He had begun his working life as a nightclub bouncer and basketball coach before turning a small long-distance phone firm into a telecoms giant.

But $11bn of losses were hidden from the accounts, and investors lost billions when the true figures came out and Worldcom's shares collapsed.

Workers at Rwandan coffee processing firm Ndera
My own view is that more resources should be given to African people
Moeletsee Mbeki, South African businessman

During the trial, Mr Ebbers surprised many by taking the stand in his own defence, arguing he didn't understand all the figures and was misled by others about the firm's true financial position.

But the firm's chief financial officer, Scott Sullivan, had done a deal with prosecutors to give evidence against Mr Ebbers. Damningly, he said Mr Ebbers had known that the books were being cooked.

After eight days of deliberation, the jury retuned a guilty verdict.

Focus on Africa

For many, Africa was the central theme of 2005, as policymakers - some enthusiastically, some more reluctantly - tried to find solutions to its widespread poverty and economic underachievement.

Progress was made at the G8 summit in Gleneagles.

Leaders of the G8 countries at Gleneagles this summer
The G8 made progress on Africa but not everyone was convinced

But some Africans felt the international community's approach was wrong, with too much aid going to governments rather than ordinary people.

"The reality is that Africans are poorer today than they were in the 1960s," says Moeletsee Mbeki, a successful businessman and brother of South African President Thabo Mbeki.

"My own view is that more resources should be given to African people... rather than aid in the hands of governments, who we know don't really have the capacity to use it."

For investors, 2005 has been a mixed year.

The total value of London's leading shares rose 15%, while Tokyo had a particularly strong year, with the leading Nikkei index rising 30%.

However, New York's Dow Jones index remained largely unchanged.

SEE ALSO
Back to the future, all over again
27 Dec 05 |  Business
'Modest' deal struck in Hong Kong
18 Dec 05 |  Business
Car giant GM to cut 30,000 staff
21 Nov 05 |  Business
Google shares top $400 threshold
18 Nov 05 |  Business
Oil hits new high on storm fears
30 Aug 05 |  Business
Talkin' about a revolution?
26 Aug 05 |  Technology
Worldcom's ex-boss gets 25 years
13 Jul 05 |  Business
G8 leaders agree $50bn aid boost
08 Jul 05 |  Business
2004: Business year in review
27 Dec 04 |  Business
2004: Business year in review
28 Dec 04 |  Business

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