Top business stories of the year

Summary:The operative word was caution. The operative phrase was 'may youlive in interesting times.'

For anyone of nervous disposition, this was a year to send you over the edge. The computer business had a good but nerve wracking twelve months with land mines aplenty. Here are the highlights:

1. E-Commerce explodes
Consumers head online in droves to do their shopping. Major retail brands including Macy's, the Gap and Starbucks set up Web sites, and traffic goes through the roof as Xmas nears. By the end of the year, consumers will have spent $7.1 billion online, according to Jupiter Communications.

2. Merger Mania
From Compaq acquiring Digital to AOL buying Netscape, the population of the business world got smaller, even as the members of that population grew incredibly large. AT&T buys TCI, WorldCom buys MCI, Bell Atlantic merges with GTE, CDNow and N2K, Microsoft buys WebTV, Nortel buys Bay, and the list goes on and on.

3. Asian markets crumble
While things are booming in the West, markets crumbled in the east. The IMF stepped in to help bail out some troubled economies, but not before the US market took a hit. The impact on US PC companies was strong, affecting all the bellwether hardware manufacturers.

4. Internet stock Valuations.
It's not Holland, and this isn't the 1630s, but Internet stocks were beginning to look a lot like tulips. Shares of Amazon.com, a company that still hasn't made a profit, soared close to the $300 mark. The Internet made millionaires out of 24-year-olds packing web sites and cool logos.

5. Day traders
Who was fueling those wild valuations? The little guys. Americans turned into Wall Street mavens, with everyone and anyone opening up a trading account online. With prices as low as $7 a trade, it seemed stupid not to.

6. Y2K
Yes, it is a business story. Companies spent millions trying to get their houses in order before the ball drops. Some will do it in time, some won't. Those that have gotten themselves straight are now starting to worry about their suppliers and their customers. And now they've got the government -- and the SEC -- breathing down their necks.

7. PCs become freebies
Well not quite, but prices did an amazing dive this year, with systems available for as little as $599. And we're not talking old technology. Companies like IBM and Compaq were sending out brand spanking new products aimed squarely at the mass-market with prices designed to move.

8. Shareholder suits continue
Despite a federal law that attempted to put the lid on so-called "strike suits" lawyers continued to file away with class action suits against companies who's stock prices weren't up to snuff. And with sock market valuations defying all known economic laws, it wasn't hard to find a company who caught.

Topics: PCs, Amazon, AT&T, E-Commerce, Government, Hardware, IBM, Legal, Microsoft

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