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Airlines prep for holiday crush: More flights, bigger planes

DALLAS (AP) Airlines are shifting the timing of thousands of flights, even adding dozens of redeyes, as they try to avoid delays while hauling millions of passengers from now through the Christmas weekend.

Success or failure could all depend on the weather and Mother Nature isn't making it easy on airlines.

There were about 2,600 delays and 230 cancelations by 2 p.m., according to flight tracking site FlightAware. More than 21,000 flights were scheduled for Wednesday and a typical day sees about 150 cancelations and 4,000 delays.

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Chipotle tweaks cooking after E. coli scare

NEW YORK (AP) After an E. coli outbreak that sickened more than 50 people, Chipotle is tweaking its methods.

Onions will be dipped in boiling water to kill germs before they're chopped. Raw chicken will be marinated in re-sealable plastic bags, rather than in bowls. Cilantro will be added to freshly cooked rice so the heat gets rid of microbes.

The chain may be suffering from traits that helped define it. In its annual report, the company noted it may be at a higher risk for foodborne illnesses because of its use of fresh produce and meats rather than frozen, and its traditional cooking methods, rather than "automation."

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Stores discount holiday goods more than last year

NEW YORK (AP) If it seems like the discounts stores are offering are bigger than during last holiday shopping season, that's because they are. And some of the best deals are happening now.

Average price cuts this year on many items from clothing to jewelry are higher than last year, according to Market Track, which reviewed weekly circulars of 11 top retailers from Nov. 1 through Dec. 20.

But the discounting wars are particularly being waged online in the final days before Christmas. In fact, 220 of the season's hottest products online in cookware, desktop computers and toys are now selling up to 40 percent below their prices on the day after Thanksgiving known as Black Friday, according to Market Track.

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2015 market winners, losers: Tech soars, old guard stumbles

NEW YORK (AP) In a flat year overall for stocks, there was still plenty of excitement to be enjoyed or endured by 2015's biggest winners and losers.

It was a year to make old guard companies shudder.

New media companies like Netflix, which rose 142 percent to notch the biggest gain in the S&P 500, became more valuable than established media companies like CBS. Amazon eviscerated traditional retailers like Macy's and Walmart. And energy and materials companies were flattened by weak demand at a time of abundant supplies. The biggest loser was Chesapeake Energy, down almost 80 percent in 2015.

The Dow Jones industrial average, dominated by long-established companies in traditional industries, is down 1.2 percent for the year through Wednesday. The Nasdaq composite, with its heavy concentration of technology companies, is up a respectable 6.5 percent.

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Virtual reality is finally here, yet still has a ways to go

NEW YORK (AP) With the launch of Samsung's Gear VR headset a few weeks ago, virtual reality for the masses is finally a thing. Now comes the next big challenge: Who, exactly, will care?

If you're a gamer, the appeal of immersing yourself in a virtual world might be obvious. Early trends look promising: The $100 Gear VR briefly sold out at many retailers. Research firm TrendForce projects sales of 14 million VR devices in 2016, mostly for gaming.

The rest of us, though, still need convincing.

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Q&A: Dissecting criticisms of T-Mobile's free video stream

NEW YORK (AP) T-Mobile has introduced a program that lets most customers watch video without using up their data allotment.

The free program, called Binge On, is available to those who have data plans of at least 3 gigabytes. T-Mobile also reduces video quality even for customers who don't qualify for free video streaming saying that phone screens are too small for viewers to discern the higher resolution, which uses more cellular data. Customers can choose the full resolution, but they would then pay for the data.

Because the program works with only two dozen leading video services Facebook and YouTube are excluded it has drawn complaints from advocates of net neutrality. The Federal Communications Commission is taking a look. And some video providers are upset, too.

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8th US death due to Takata air bag explosion identified

WASHINGTON (AP) A minor who was driving a car that crashed near Pittsburgh has been tentatively identified by the government as the eighth death in the U.S. due to an explosive air bag inflator made by auto parts maker Takata, federal transportation officials said Wednesday.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration officials also announced an expansion in the recall of vehicles with Takata airbags, already the largest and most complex recall in the agency's history. The latest findings could result in the recall of several hundred thousand additional vehicles, officials said.

The appointment of an independent monitor to oversee the company's compliance with a government consent order on the recalls was also announced.

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Hello Kitty owner Sanrio says fan site security leak fixed

HONG KONG (AP) The Japanese company that owns the Hello Kitty brand said it has fixed a security leak in an online fan site after the personal information of 3.3 million users was compromised.

Sanrio Co.'s digital arm said Tuesday that it "corrected" a security vulnerability on the SanrioTown.com website and was investigating. It said anyone who knew the Internet addresses of "specific vulnerable servers" could have accessed personal information such as names and birthdates. Passwords were also available but encrypted.

However, it added that the data did not include credit card or other payment details, and that no information was stolen.

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US consumer spending and incomes up in November

WASHINGTON (AP) U.S. consumer spending rebounded in November after a weak showing in October, while a key inflation gauge posted the fastest year-over-year increase in 11 months.

Spending increased 0.3 percent in November after an essentially flat reading in October and a 0.2 percent gain in September, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. Personal income rose a solid 0.3 percent in November, reflecting solid gains in wages and salaries.

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US consumer confidence rose in December to 5-month high

WASHINGTON (AP) U.S. consumer sentiment rose in December to its highest level since July, lifted in part by low inflation, which has boosted Americans' purchasing power.

The University of Michigan's consumer sentiment index, released Wednesday, rose to 92.6 from 91.3 in November. That's just below this year's average of 92.9, the highest annual average in 11 years.

The mood of consumers has been boosted this year by steady hiring, which has brought the unemployment rate down to a seven-year low of 5 percent. There are also early signs that businesses are offering higher pay to attract and keep workers.

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US new-home sales rose in November after weak October

WASHINGTON (AP) Americans appear less inclined to buy new homes as the year ends. Sales improved in November only because fewer people bought new homes in October than initially reported.

The Commerce Department said Wednesday that new-home sales rose 4.3 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 490,000. But that increase was made possible mainly because the sales rate for October was revised sharply down to 470,000 from 495,000.

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The Dow Jones industrial average rose 185.34 points, or 1.1 percent, to 17,602.61. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 25.32 points, or 1.2 percent, to 2,064.29 and the Nasdaq composite rose 44.82 points, or 0.9 percent, to 5,045.93.

U.S. crude futures jumped $1.36, or 3.8 percent, to $37.50 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, which is used to price international oils, added $1.25, or 3.5 percent, to $37.36 a barrel in London. In other energy commodities, heating oil rose 3.2 cents to $1.119 a gallon, wholesale gasoline rose 6.7 cents to $1.241 a gallon and natural gas rose 9.5 cents to $1.983 per thousand cubic feet.