Rapid descent

Investors have taken a battering, writes Annette Sampson in her review of the year.

Investors have taken a battering, writes Annette Sampson in her review of the year.

It started with natural disasters and ended with the looming threat of another financial one. All in all, 2011 is one of those years we would prefer to forget.

"It has been an incredibly volatile ride," the chief economist at AMP Capital Investors, Dr Shane Oliver, says. "It has certainly been a disappointing year. A year ago we were thinking the global recovery would become more entrenched and the market would end up [about] the 5000 level.

"The US economy has struggled, Europe is struggling, China has slowed, emerging markets have their own problems and in Australia there's ongoing debate about the two-speed economy where, outside mining, much of the country is pretty depressed."

The chief investment officer at ipac Securities, Jeff Rogers, says investors have realised some of the problems brought to light by the global financial crisis still linger below the surface: "In some sense, the big deleveraging that had to occur is taking longer to play out in Europe and markets are now challenging the structure of the euro."

So, let's take a look at the year that's just been.

JANUARY

- Floods hit Queensland, Victoria and NSW. Parts of Brisbane's central business district are under water. Predictably, arguments arise over home insurance. The government announces a flood levy.

- Portugal, Spain and Italy hold successful bond auctions, easing fears of a European debt crisis.

- Standard & Poor's lowers its sovereign credit rating for Japan to AA- from AA.

- Demonstrators seeking to overthrow the president of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, unsettle investors, sending share prices down and oil prices up.

FEBRUARY

- The US Dow Jones Index closes above 12,000 points for the first time in 2? years.

- Cyclone Yasi hits the Queensland coast but is less devastating than predicted.

- A picture emerges of a two-speed economy as miners (and the Commonwealth Bank) report bumper interim profits but many industrials disappoint. BHP reports a record $US10.5 billion half-year profit - up 72 per cent - leading to questions about whether Australians were dudded on the watered-down mining tax.

- The US Federal Reserve upgrades its forecasts for US economic growth but warns unemployment will stay at 8.8 per cent to 9 per cent.

- The Reserve Bank reveals Australians are saving at a greater rate than they have in more than 20 years - about 10 per cent of disposable income.

- Crude oil hits two-year highs as unrest in the Middle East continues to worsen.

MARCH

- Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics forecasts a record $251 billion from commodity exports in 2011-12.

- AXA shareholders approve a merger with AMP.

- The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, hoses down calls for the government to intervene in the Australian dollar, which has been hovering above parity with the greenback.

- An earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, triggering a crisis at the Fukushima nuclear plant. This spooks markets and the Bank of Japan injects more than $700 billion into markets to keep the economy moving.

APRIL

- The S&P/ASX 200 index peaks at 4976 on April 11.

- Portugal joins Greece and Ireland in seeking an emergency bailout from the European Commission.

- Gold reaches new highs as concern about the Middle East boosts demand for safe havens.

- China reports its first quarterly trade deficit in seven years and announces measures to curb lending and inflation.

- The International Monetary Fund reports debt-laden banks (particularly in Ireland and Germany) will need to refinance a "wall of maturing debt" worth $US3.6 trillion in the next two years.

- Standard & Poor's gives US treasury debt a negative outlook as Congress appears unlikely to agree on a deficit-reduction strategy.

- The Australian dollar breaks $US1.09 as terms of trade rise to near 60-year highs and concerns grow about the US printing money.

- The Assistant Treasurer, Bill Shorten, says he will press ahead with banning volume-based incentives on financial products, soft dollar benefits worth more than $300 and commissions on insurance sold through super. He says he will press ahead with the controversial opt-in requirement, making financial advisers ask clients if they want to keep paying for advice.

MAY

- The US market continues to rise early in the month as Australian shares falter over concerns about the high dollar. It hits $US1.10.

- House prices suffer their biggest fall since 2008, down 1.7 per cent in the March quarter.

- The Australian Securities Exchange reports 80 per cent of shareholders think it is a good time to buy or hold shares, though share ownership has fallen from 46 per cent in 2006 to 43 per cent.

- Oil falls to less than $US100 a barrel as commodity prices get the shakes.

- Fresh talk of a Greek debt default sends panic through the markets. Portugal accepts a ?78 billion bailout from the European Union and the IMF.

- The government announces an underlying cash deficit of $49 billion in its budget and a minor crackdown on middle-class welfare.

- Ratings agency Moody's reduces the rating of the big four banks' unsecured long-term credit because of their sensitivity to wholesale funding.

- Fitch Ratings agency reports a record 1.79 million households were behind in their loan repayments in quarter.

JUNE

- Exports fall 9 per cent and growth 1.2 per cent in the March quarter, dampening expectations of an interest rate hike.

- Shares continue to falter on poor US economic data, fears of Chinese inflation, warnings commodity prices are unsustainable, poor Japanese economic data and the worsening debt crisis in Europe.

- Greeks riot over proposed austerity measures as European leaders squabble over Greece's next bailout and the prime minister survives a vote of no confidence. Parliament passes a new ?78 billion austerity package.

- As the government gets down to the nitty-gritty of its proposed carbon tax, the World Bank reports the global market for carbon credits is near collapse.

- The US Federal Reserve cuts 0.5 percentage points from the country's growth forecasts.

- The Commonwealth Bank cuts the interest rate on its new no-fees home loan as banks fight for business in a slow lending market.

JULY

- The government announces details of its proposed carbon tax, including big handouts to most households.

- Bank lending hits its highest level in two years after two months of growth higher than or equal to 4 per cent in home loan approvals.

- Italy and Spain join the list of indebted European countries troubling world markets. Ratings agencies downgrade Portugal and Ireland to junk status.

- Concerns mount as the US nears an August 2 deadline to approve raising its $US14.3 trillion debt ceiling with Congress unable to reach an agreement.

- News Corporation shares hit the skids as the company closes British newspaper News of the World in the face of phone-hacking revelations.

- China grows 9.5 per cent in June quarter despite five interest rate rises.

- David Jones announces a shock profit downgrade, which triggers a sell-off in retail shares.

- The chief economist at Westpac, Bill Evans, becomes a popular hero by suggesting the next interest rate move will be down, not up.

- The average growth super fund reports a 9.2 per cent return in the year to June.

- The Australian dollar hits $1.11 and gold a record $US1632 an ounce. The strong Aussie is blamed for the rise in online shopping with overseas retailers, which, according to a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers, will hit $6 billion this year.

AUGUST

- Shares rally as the US Congress reaches a last-minute deal to raise its debt ceiling.

- Standard and Poor's downgrades US debt from AAA to AA , triggering a flight to safety in US bonds. China, the largest foreign holder of US debt, warns the US needs to "cure its addiction to debt".

- European central bankers hold emergency talks to prevent Spain and Italy becoming the next victims of the sovereign debt crisis. The European Central Bank steps in to buy their bonds and G20 finance ministers state they will take "all necessary initiatives" to stabilise markets.

- Riots break out in London.

- The Australian dollar briefly drops below parity with the $US.

- The Australian sharemarket bottoms with the S&P/ASX 200, hitting 3986 on August 8. Markets then stage an extraordinary rebound: the Australian market drops 5.5 per cent on the morning of August 9 then finishes the day up 1.22 per cent.

- The US Federal Reserve guarantees no increase in interest rates until mid-2013.

- The chief executive of MTAA Super, Michael Delaney, resigns after a vote of no confidence from the fund's main employer sponsor. The fund had been troubled by poor investment returns and an investigation by the regulator.

- Banks cut fixed-interest lending rates and offer discounts on variable home loans.

- The government releases the first tranche of draft legislation for its financial advice reforms. Concessions include limiting the ban on commissions on life insurance sold through super to default funds and applying opt-in every two years to new clients only.

- The president of the World Bank, Robert Zoellick, says Australia is better placed to withstand another GFC than other developed economies.

SEPTEMBER

- After no new jobs are created in the US in August, President Barack Obama announces a $US447 billion jobs plan.

- Small-business profitability slumps to its lowest level in two decades.

- Mining company profits rise 15 per cent in the three months to June profit growth overall is 6.7 per cent.

- The Australian economy grows 1.2 per cent in the June quarter and the contraction in March is scaled back to 0.9 per cent.

- The government extends its guarantee on deposits of up to $1 million until February and announces a permanent guarantee on amounts up to $250,000.

- The European debt crisis rolls on. Concerns include downgrades of two major French banks, an internal IMF report that claims European banks have a big capital shortfall, new austerity measures in Greece, downgrades of Spain and Italy's sovereign debt and a refusal by China to help bail out European economies until they get their house in order. The German parliament votes to allow the European Financial Stability Facility to buy bonds of distressed countries.

- The US Federal Reserve announces fresh measures to boost growth by bringing down long-term interest rates.

- The gold price hits $US1921.

- The government announces default super funds will be able to offer different pricing so long as it is disclosed under its MySuper reforms. It also releases the second tranche of its financial advice reforms, which include a ban on conflicted remuneration.

- Aussie shares finish the quarter down 12.7 per cent.

OCTOBER

- Household assets fall $23 billion in the June quarter. APRA reports safety-conscious investors have ploughed $27 billion into banking deposits in August.

- The sharemarket has its best session in almost three years as hopes of a resolution in the European debt crisis and expectations the US Federal Reserve will boost its stimulus efforts drive up the market by 3.65 per cent.

- The Bank of England warns the world faces its worst financial crisis since the 1930s, "if not ever", and decides to pump #75 billion of new money into the economy.

- The Occupy Wall Street protests gain momentum and spread to other cities.

- Australian business leaders send a warning that falling productivity could hurt jobs and growth.

- GUD Holdings becomes the first company to be hit with a protest vote under the new two-strikes rule on executive remuneration.

- Iron ore suffers its biggest one-week fall in pricing history, down 15 per cent to $120 a tonne.

- After much hand-wringing, European leaders finally agree on a comprehensive debt plan. Noted investor George Soros gives it "one day to three months".

- Qantas takes the unprecedented step of grounding its fleet due to ongoing industrial action.

NOVEMBER

- The Reserve Bank cuts interest rates by 0.25 percentage points.

- Despite new prime ministers being installed in Greece and Italy and a new government elected in Spain, conditions in Europe continue to deteriorate. BHP and Commonwealth Bank warn of a tightening in credit markets and Moody's says the problems have escalated so rapidly that all European sovereign debt is under ratings threat.

- Commodity prices improve and retail spending reaches its strongest levels since November 2009 in the September quarter.

- The government's carbon tax is passed.

- Inflation pressures ease in China.

- Uranium stocks have their best day since the Japanese nuclear crisis when the government announces it will support sales to India.

- The minerals resource rent tax passes the lower house of Federal Parliament after concessions win the support of key independents.

- The US Congress super-committee misses its deadline for identifying $US1.2 trillion in savings.

- The government delivers a mini-budget to ensure it will return to surplus in 2012-13, which includes cuts to the super co-contribution to help fund tax breaks on super for lower earners.

DECEMBER

- In a surprise announcement, the European Central Bank and central banks from the US, Britain, Japan, Canada and Switzerland commit to offering liquidity to troubled European banks until 2013. Italy announces austerity measures but S&P warns 15 of the 17 euro nations face possible downgrades if problems continue. The world awaits yet another crucial European summit.

- The Reserve Bank cuts rates by another 0.25 percentage points as inflation falls 0.1 per cent in November.

And the awards go to ...

WINNERS

Were thin on the ground. Gold and bonds topping the performance charts says it all. (See table, right.)

LOSERS

Too many to name but the cake goes to the market timers who thought early 2011 was a great time to get back into shares. They're probably the same ones who sold when the market bottomed in 2009.

BOUQUETS

Warren Buffett for having the grace to admit he should not pay less tax than his secretary.

BRICKBATS

The US Congress for its pathetic efforts in addressing the US budget crisis. It's about money in and money out, not petty politics and ideology.

INSIGHTS

Michael Lewis's book Boomerang, about the European debt crisis. A wake-up call to anyone who believes the world's financial system is being run by people who know what they're doing.

MISCALCULATIONS

Gerry Harvey and his band of merry retailers who got together to demand the government levy GST on overseas online purchases. The bollocking they got from consumers was an obvious outcome to everyone ... except for them.

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