Glo­bal busi­ness

–0.5 percent; in Greece it was –2.8 percent.

The central bank of Azerbaijan devalued the country's currency, the manat, by a third. This was done in part to "strengthen its international compatibility" with a much-weakened Russian ruble.

South Africa's economy grew by 1.5 percent last year, the slowest pace since the depths of the global financial crisis, as the country grappled with crippling strikes in the mining and manufacturing industries. With those disputes over, GDP increased by 4.1 percent in the fourth quarter on an annualized basis. The government this week presented a budget of tax rises and spending cuts, which didn't impress investors.

Stuart Gulliver, the chief executive of HSBC, was hauled in front of a committee in Parliament to answer questions about claims that the bank's Swiss offices had helped clients avoid taxes. The bank itself reported a 17 percent drop in annual pretax profit, to $18.7 billion.

Royal Bank of Scotland, which is still majority-owned by the British taxpayer after being bailed out by the Treasury in 2008, reported a loss of £3.5 billion ($5.8 billion) for last year, its seventh straight annual loss.

In a big shake-up of its top brass, Standard Chartered announced that Peter Sands is to step down as chief executive. He will be replaced by Bill Winters, who used to head the investment bank at JPMorgan Chase and was once considered a contender to take over from Jamie Dimon in the top job there. Standard's chairman and several senior executives are also departing. The bank's share price has wilted in recent years because the once-hot emerging markets that are its mainstay have cooled rapidly.

Gemalto, the world's biggest manufacturer of mobile-phone SIM cards, said that a hacking attempt by American and British intelligence agencies into its network in 2010 and 2011 "probably happened." The incursion was reported by a website that has published articles based on leaks from Edward Snowden. Gemalto described the intrusion as "particularly sophisticated," but said that it could not have resulted in a "massive theft" of SIM encryption keys.

In the latest blockbuster deal in the drugs industry, Valeant, which last year lost its takeover bid for Allergan, the maker of Botox, agreed to buy Salix in a $14.5 billion acquisition.

Po­lit­i­cal ec­on­omy

Venezuela's state security service arrested the mayor of metropolitan Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, after the president, Nicolas Maduro, accused him of plotting a coup against his government with the help of the United States. Venezuela's left-wing regime has been shaken by food shortages, soaring inflation and the falling price of oil. It faces parliamentary elections later this year.

The downgrading of Petrobras' credit rating to junk status by Moody's sent shivers through Brazilian markets. The state-controlled oil company is mired in a corruption scandal involving politicians from Brazil's ruling Workers' Party, preventing Petrobras from undertaking a proper financial audit.

The government of Ukraine struggled to cope with mounting economic problems, including a sharp decline in the value of its currency. The central bank intervened to prop up the hryvnia through currency controls. Fighting was more subdued in the country's east, 10 days after a cease-fire was supposed to come into force.

The new left-wing government in Greece managed to satisfy, at least provisionally, finance ministers from fellow members of the eurozone with its reform plan, staving off the immediate risk of a financial meltdown. But in Athens some supporters of Alexis Tsipras, the prime minister, were disappointed by the climbdown from the radical program on which his Syriza party was only recently elected.

The European Commission granted France an extra two years to meet its mandated budget deficit target of 3 percent of GDP. The deadline had already been extended by two years in 2013. It gave little explanation for the latest extension, which disappointed fiscal hawks.

The Austrian parliament passed a controversial change to a law governing Islam that replaces legislation dating back to the Austro-Hungarian empire a century ago. The new law forbids foreign funding for imams and mosques, a restriction that does not apply to Christian or Jewish places of worship.