Business News at 1:40 p.m.

Business News at 1:40 p.m.

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All times EDT.

TOP STORIES:

GLOBAL RECALLS

DETROIT When it comes to making and selling cars, the auto industry thinks and acts globally: There is near-seamless coordination between parts suppliers, factories and dealerships. But when an unsafe car needs to be recalled, that global coordination breaks down in part because governments do not demand it. The consequences are sometimes deadly. By Dee-Ann Durbin. SENT: 990 words, photos. An expanded version, 1,600 words, also available.

With:

JAPAN-AIRBAG RECALLS Takata Corp., the Japanese maker of air bags at the center of massive recalls in the U.S. and elsewhere, says it's reshuffling its top executives, who plan to take pay cuts in response to the crisis. SENT: 330 words.

And:

HONDA-AIR BAG RECALL Honda is recalling 1,252 Crosstour vehicles due to a faulty side air bag made by troubled air bag supplier Takata. SENT: 160 words.

SONY HACK-THE INTERVIEW

LOS ANGELES "The Interview" will be available for rental on a variety of digital platforms including Google Play, YouTube Movies, Microsoft's Xbox Video and a separate Sony website. It will cost $5.99 to stream. It also will open in about 200 theaters on Thursday. By Lindsey Bahr. SENT: 590 words, photo. UPCOMING: Will be updated.

With:

SONY HACK-WHODUNIT

LOS ANGELES Everyone has a theory about who really hacked Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc. Perhaps the only point of agreement among those guessing is that even the most dramatic cybercrimes can be really, really hard to solve convincingly. By Tami Abdollah. SENT: 1,000 words, photos.

And:

NKOREA-MYSTERY OUTAGE North Korea's microscopic corner of the Internet has had a rough couple of days, suffering seven outages in the last 48 hours, according to one Web traffic monitor. By Raphael Satter. SENT: 660 words, photo.

ON THE MONEY-HOLIDAY RETURNS-TIPS

In a few days, you may find yourself wanting to return a well-meaning gift. We offer a few tips to help consumers navigate the process. By Alex Veiga. SENT: 800 words.

SMALLBIZ-SMALL TALK

NEW YORK The stronger economy has encouraged people to spend more, and in turn, prompted many small businesses to expand and hire more workers. The trend looks to continue surveys by Wells Fargo & Co. and the National Federation of Independent Business show more owners plan to bring in new employees in the coming months. By Joyce M. Rosenberg. SENT: 600 words.

HONG KONG-INCENSE TREE

HONG KONG On land deep in Hong Kong's lush green northern suburbs near the border with mainland China, farmer Koon-wing Chan is working to keep a legendary scent alive in the city known as the Fragrant Harbor. Chan runs Hong Kong's last commercial plantation of agarwood trees, prized for aromatic resin used to make incense, perfume and medicine. The trade died out as Hong Kong's economy modernized and the city became a center for finance, not fragrance. By Kelvin Chan. SENT: 890 words, photos.

MARKETS & ECONOMY:

UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS

WASHINGTON The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits has reached its lowest level in seven weeks, a sign that the U.S. economy and job market are steadily improving. By Josh Boak. SENT: 250 words.

MORTGAGE RATES

WASHINGTON Average U.S. mortgage rates rose slightly this week but the benchmark 30-year low remained very close to the 19-month low hit last week. By Martin Crutsinger. SENT: 310 words.

FINANCIAL MARKETS

NEW YORK Stocks are closing mostly higher a day after the Dow Jones industrial average closed above 18,000 for the first time. By Alex Veiga. SENT: 600 words, photos. UPCOMING: 700 words by 5 p.m.

CFTC-MF GLOBAL MF Global Holdings Ltd. must pay $1.21 billion to reimburse customers for losses sustained when the brokerage firm failed in 2011. SENT: 140 words. UPCOMING: Will be updated.

INDUSTRY:

IMMIGRANTS-UNIONS

CHICAGO Unions across the U.S. are reaching out to immigrants affected by President Barack Obama's recent executive action, hoping to expand their dwindling ranks by recruiting millions of workers who entered the U.S. illegally. By Sara Burnett. SENT: 660 words, photos.

WAL-MART-GIFT CARDS Starting Christmas Day, Wal-Mart is letting customers exchange gift cards from more than 200 retailers, airlines and restaurants for a Wal-Mart card. The cards don't expire and can be used in stores and online. SENT: 290 words.

MARIJUANA-HOMELESS

DENVER Chris Easterling was sick of relying on drug dealers in Minneapolis when he needed marijuana to help ease the pain of multiple sclerosis. They were flaky, often leaving the homeless man without the drug when he needed relief the most. So he moved to Denver, where legal pot dispensaries are plentiful and accessible. By Sadie Gurman. SENT: 820 words, photos.

GERMANY-HEIDELBERGCEMENT-HANSON Germany's HeidelbergCement AG says it is selling its North American and British brick and concrete pipe business, Hanson Building Products, to an American affiliate of investor Lone Star Funds in a deal worth $1.4 billion. SENT: 120 words.

BEHIND THE WHEEL-VOLKSWAGEN PASSAT Most consumers may figure they have to pay a premium to get German engineering, European road handling and a roomy interior in a family-size sedan. But Volkswagen's 2015 Passat is proving them wrong. SENT: 930 words, photo, box.

TECHNOLOGY & MEDIA:

RIDE SHARE ASSAULT An Uber driver accused of sexually assaulting a woman who had summoned the ride-sharing service is ordered held without bail. SENT: 280 words.

INTERNATIONAL:

RUSSIA-ECONOMY

MOSCOW With inflation showing clear signs of picking up, Russia's central bank says it will look to help companies with their foreign debts a move it hopes will ease the pressure on the national currency. By Vladimir Isachenkov and Nataliya Vasilyeva. SENT: 630 words, photos.

TUNISIA-ECONOMIC CHALLENGES The newly elected president of Tunisia faces deep-seated economic problems as he takes power in the country that blazed the trail in the Arab Spring. SENT: 540 words.

PERSONAL FINANCE:

OF MUTUAL INTEREST-YEAR IN REVIEW

The line between winning and losing mutual funds was more meaningful this year than in 2013, when nearly every stock fund posted gains. Funds that focus on only the biggest stocks delivered some of the year's strongest performances, while U.S. stock and bond funds generally did much better than their foreign counterparts. By Stan Choe. SENT: 860 words.

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CENTERPIECE

AbbVie strikes a deal

An agreement by Express Scripts, the nation's largest pharmacy benefits manager, to cover AbbVie's hepatitis C treatment exclusively is viewed as a significant win. In a note to clients, analyst Jeffrey Holford of Jefferies, wrote that he expects AbbVie to issue "very strong" earnings guidance in January and said it is a top pick for 2015. UPCOMING: Graphic expected by 6 p.m.

COMPANY SPOTLIGHT

Ready for 2015?

Hertz Global Holdings appointed a new CEO last month and says it will raise prices for its rental cars starting Jan. 1. UPCOMING: Graphic expected by 6 p.m.

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MONEY & MARKETS EXTRA

For the week ending Saturday, Dec. 27, 2014

CENTERPIECE

Record highs

The Standard & Poor's 500 index has closed at a record high 51 times this year, the most since 1995. UPCOMING: Graphic expected by 6 p.m.