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Business

December 30, 2012

Top business story in '12: Sluggish global economy

This would be the year when the global economy finally regained its vigor. At least that’s what many had hoped.

It didn’t happen.

The three largest economies — the United States, China and Japan — struggled again in 2012. The 17 countries that use the euro endured a third painful year in their financial crisis and slid into recession. Emerging economies slowed.

President Barack Obama defied predictions by sailing to re-election. And his landmark health care plan surprisingly survived Supreme Court review. Obama’s re-election triggered a face-off with Republicans over averting the “fiscal cliff” — the drastic spending cuts and tax increases that were set to kick in Jan. 1.

The tech world dueled over smartphones and tablets and saw Facebook’s IPO sour as fast as it had sizzled. The housing market inched toward recovery. And Americans suffered both a catastrophic drought and a catastrophic superstorm.

Least surprisingly, perhaps, another gallery of rogues brought investigative scrutiny to Wall Street.

The achingly slow global economic recovery was chosen as the top business story of the year by business editors at The Associated Press. The U.S. presidential election came in second, followed by the Supreme Court’s upholding Obama’s health-care plan.

1. THE GLOBAL ECONOMY

Worldwide growth was slack again in 2012. The global economy grew just 3.3 percent, down from 3.8 percent in 2011 and 5.1 percent in 2010, the International Monetary Fund estimates. The U.S. economy, the world’s largest, failed to gain traction. Five years after a recession seized the economy and more than three years after it ended, growth in the United States was only about 2 percent. Unemployment remained a high 7.7 percent.

Europe fared worse. Its financial crisis did stabilize, thanks in part to the European Central Bank’s plan to buy government bonds to help countries manage their debts. But the euro alliance sank into recession. Europeans, in turn, held back China, the world’s No. 2 economy, by cutting back on Chinese goods. China’s economy grew at a 7.4 percent annual rate in the July-September quarter. Though a scorching pace for developed countries, that marked a 3½-year low for China. And at year’s end, Japan’s economy, the world’s third-largest, was shrinking.

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