The Best and Worst of Business 2009

Remembering the good news and bad in a year we won’t forget.
By Leslie D. Helm, Chris Winters, Talia Schmidt, Kate Vesper, David Volk, Randy Woods, Elizabeth Economou and Art Thiel |   December 2009   |  FROM THE PRINT EDITION
Illustrations by Mark Brewer

since one of the deleted e-books was George Orwell's 1984. Amazon's ability to delete files without notifying customers or obtaining their permission is a frightening reminder of the rising power that large internet companies have over our lives. —Kate Vesper


Shortest Lived Victory Dept.: RealNetworks' Stock Battles Gravity

RealercoasterRealNetworks' real excitement over its first real positive news in a really long time turned into a really big bummer really fast after an industry analyst hit the firm with a dose of reality.

Less than 24 hours after the firm's stock shot up 7 percent on news that RealNetworks' Rhapsody subscription music streaming service would become an application available for iPhones and the iPod touch, the expert said it really wasn't that big a deal. To add insult to injury, JPMorgan analyst Vasily Karasyo reminded the market that Real was still facing litigation worth millions of dollars.

The stock gave back all its gains before the day was out. —David Volk


The Bottom 10 Stocks of 2009

Worst Trend: Fees, Fees and More Fees

Pick-a-pocket-or-twoDespite the hard economic times, or perhaps because of them, bigger corporations like airlines and banks have increased the ways in which they can nickel-and-dime their customers by adding and increasing fees for services that were once free.

With fewer people able to afford to fly and fuel costs on the rise, the airlines were left with the task of making up for losses somehow. It started with checking a second bag (now $50 on American Airlines), charging for food on domestic flights ($7 sandwiches on Alaska Airlines, credit or debit only), sitting in an exit row or aisle seat ($15 on US Airways) or extra fees for unaccompanied minors ($75 on Alaska Airlines).

United Airlines alone expects to rake in more than $1 billion this year in fees, ranging from baggage to accelerated frequent flier awards, while US Airways brought in more than $100 million in fees for checked bags in the second quarter alone.

Banks are no exception when it comes to racking up fees to help offset massive loan losses. Watching your credit cards' interest rates creep (or rocket) skyward is old news, as is being dinged for transferring your balance to a lower-rate card. But some of the country's largest banks, like JPMorgan Chase (which now owns WaMu's business), US Bank and Wells Fargo recently billed small-business customers for federal deposit insurance increases, the New York Times reports, while Citigroup and PNC Financial are charging customers nearly 3 percent international transaction fees when consumers use their debit cards abroad. And free checking, long a staple of WaMu's offerings in the Northwest, may be a thing of the past in most other corners of the country: Bank of America raised fees on its basic monthly checking account from $5.95 to $8.95. Meanwhile, average ATM charges rose to $1.97 from $1.78 in 2008, and the harshest fee around-the dreaded overdraft fee-rose 4 percent, to an average of $26, with Bank of America charging $35.

In this new world, everything has a price. —Talia Schmidt

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