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A year in red and black ink: 2014's biggest winners and losers from world of business

There was no escaping Michael O’Leary, Irish Water or Apple’s world domination.

shutterstock_174476393 Source: Shutterstock/Ismagilov

IT WAS A year in which big technology companies delivered nosebleed profits, the grocery market got hot and a certain highly unpopular semi-state utility stumbled blinking and disoriented into the spotlight.

Some firms made headlines for the right reasons in 2014 while others seemed to attract nothing but controversy, while many more quietly went about their business making shedloads of cash.

Here is TheJournal.ie’s list of some of the companies that did the best through the year – and those which spend a painful 12 months drowning in red ink. Think we’ve got it wrong? Well, give us your thoughts in the comments section below…

On the up

Ryanair

Europe’s busiest airline was, excuse the pun, flying this year, so much so that virtually every financial update from the Swords-based carrier brought another lift in its profit and traffic forecasts for the year. The latest, out this month, put its expected profits in the ballpark of a very tidy €830 million for the year – pushing Ryanair’s total share value over €13 billion for the first time ever. Sure there were the predicable flight mishaps and a few slaps on the wrist from regulators, but with that kind of cash coming in we doubt Michael O’Leary’s losing much sleep

Wall Street Ryanair Source: Richard Drew/AP/Press Association Images

Facebook

Mark Zuckerberg again proved this year that his social networking site was pretty much a license to print money. Its latest results showed the firm made over $800 million in profit over just 3 months on revenue of $3.2 billion – a very enviable profit margin of 25%. Mobile ads have proved to be the real cash cow, delivering nearly all the company’s profit increases over the past 2 years. While there were the inevitable controversies over the company’s aggressive tax avoidance tactics, not much is rocking the social media giant’s applecart at the moment

The Face Of Facebook Source: Paul Sakuma/AP/Press Association Images

Aldi and Lidl

OK, the two German discount grocery chains are clearly not the one company but we’re pairing them together because both have shared similarly good years in Ireland and the UK – two markets once dominated by Tesco (more on that later). They’ve been doing particularly well in the Republic, where both have been posting double-digit growth figures, although they have been accused of making their profits at the expense of squeezed Irish producers

The Aldi Marquee at the N Source: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

Stripe

Doubling the value of any business in less than 12 months is an impressive feat, but when that business is only 4 years old and it was already worth about $1.75 billion then you would have to be very pleased with yourself. The two, 20-something Collison brothers from Limerick have pulled off that performance this year as their online payments company Stripe hit a valuation of $3.5 billion on its latest fundraising round. At the same time they have strengthened their credentials in keeping ahead of the bigger competition, like PayPal, by toying with a Bitcoin-like crypto-currency

Dublin Web Technology Summits Stripe co-founder Patrick Collison Source: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

Applegreen

The home-grown fuel chain has been rolling out a rapid-fire expansion plan this year, boosting its Irish outlets nearly 25% and establishing a foothold in the US with its first 2 service stations on the east coast. And despite what it described as a “tough trading environment”, it managed to turn a bigger profit last year in the low-margin fuel trade thanks to its tactic of hooking up with fast-food chains like Burger King and Subway

Released A head turning f Source: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

Penneys

Primark, or Penneys to the Irish shopper, was credited with delivering a “magnificent year” for parent company Associated British Foods as it continued to expand through Europe. It even enlisted Taoiseach Enda Kenny to open its second outlet in Berlin, as well as pushing forward plans to get its first stores rolling in the US. But questions still remain over the labour standards involved in putting together its budget clothing lines as the company paid out $10 million in compensation over the 2013 collapse of a Bangladeshi factory that killed about 1,000 people

Source: Video TheJournal.ie/YouTube

Apple

There were doubters who thought the world’s most valuable company would lose its mojo after the death of talismanic founder Steve Jobs. But record sales of its new iPhone and the salivating already being done over its yet-to-be-released Apple Watch have poured cold water on that theory, not to mention its bumper revenues and profits. There’s only the little matter outstanding of Apple’s alleged sweetheart tax deal with Ireland, which could mean the company had to hand over about €160 million in back-taxes

Apple Alibaba Source: Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP/Press Association Images

On the slide

Tesco

Oh Tesco, it has not been a good year. The company’s share price nearly halved over the past 12 months and at one point earlier this December it was trading roughly where it was nearly 15 years ago. That followed a string of profit downgrades and a £263 million accounting debacle which led to its chairman announcing plans to step down and a criminal investigation. Better luck in 2015, folks

Tesco Value Bitter Source: Ewan-M

Sony

On and off the balance sheet, things are not going well for poor Sony. The one-time technology leader wrote off a massive €1.3 billion this year for all the goodwill it had pencilled in the books for its ailing smartphone lines. It is now expected a net loss in the billions this year after losing about €900 million the year before.  Then there were the hacks, blamed on the “hermit kingdom” of North Korea, which resulted in unreleased films being leaked alongside personal documents and other information. Some of the company’s former employees are now suing over that breach

Japan Sony Source: Toru Takahashi/AP/Press Association Images

Irish Water

No list of business losers for 2014 would be complete without the controversial quango set up to handle the nation’s water services. Irish Water, itself a subsidiary of another semi-state, Bord Gáis Éireann, now rebranded Ervia, has been under fire for everything including (but probably not limited to) wasteful spending, sky-high staff bonusesquestionable board appointments, poor data security and all-around incompetence. And that pain looks only set to continue with a real risk the quango will punch a hole in the government’s budget as people refuse to sign up for the new, lower regime of charges

Irish Water Issues Source: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

Uber

Sure its valuation keeps going up (somewhere in the vicinity of €32 billion at last count), but ride-sharing service Uber has been developing a serious image problem. City administrators have been lining up to ban the controversial service for anything from providing unfair competition to taxis (Brussels), to safety concerns about unregulated drivers (New Delhi). Then there were public-relations fails like its decision to ramp up prices for Australian customers fleeing the Sydney CBD as a siege sent the city into lockdown, or its quickly-withdrawn campaign to hire “incredibly hot chicks” to drive passengers around the city of Lyon

Institute of Directors annual conference - London Uber's controversial founder, Travis Kalanick Source: Anthony Devlin/PA Archive/Press Association Images

Permanent TSB

The only Irish bank to fail the European Central Bank’s stress tests, Permanent TSB (PTSB) is also a good couple of years off turning a profit – unlike its bailed-out counterparts the Bank of Ireland and AIB. The 99.2% state-owned lender came up €855 million short in the ECB’s worst-case scenario, although its losses have been falling and it has dramatically ramped up its mortgage lending

Permanent TSB Business AGMS Source: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

Eircom

Revenues continue to slide at the former state-owned telecoms company as customers continue to drop fixed-line phone services. But despite rolling out the biggest fibre broadband network in Ireland, the company has struggled to get people to sign on for its high-speed internet – lagging well behind market leader UPC. It also shelved plans for a third attempt at going public, a move which was swiftly followed by its chief executive deciding to return to the US

New High Speed Fibre Broadband Networks Taoiseach Enda Kenny helps launch Eircom's fibre network Source: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

Samsung

Its still making a profit, but things aren’t looking so health at Apple’s big South Korean rival. The company recorded its worst quarterly return for investors in 3 years as it announced it was slashing its smartphone lines. At the top end of the market, its flagship Galaxy has struggled against Apple’s iPhone, while in the cheap-and-cheerful category it has taken a hammering from budget Chinese brands. That led to its once-dominant market share shrinking from nearly one-third to about a quarter in just a year

South Korea Samsung Galaxy Note Source: Ahn Young-joon/AP/Press Association Images

READ: ‘Falling bond yields butter no parsnips’: 8 winners, 8 losers and 4 we couldn’t decide on from 2013 >

READ: Here are the 10 most-read stories on TheJournal.ie this year >

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About the author:

Peter Bodkin  / Editor, Fora

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