Gadgets around us will keep getting smarter, like it or not

Our cars, our homes, our appliances and even our toys: Things around us are going to keep getting smarter. In 2016, we'll entrust even more of our lives and their intimate details to machines not to mention the companies that run them.

Are we ready for that? Every technological benefit comes with a cost in the form of a threat to privacy. Yet not paying that price has its own cost: An inability to participate in some of technology's greater achievements.


US stocks are ending 2015 mostly flat, capping volatile year

The U.S. stock market took investors for a wild ride in 2015, but in the end it was a trip to nowhere.

Despite veering between record highs and the steepest dive in four years, the stock market is on track to end the year essentially flat.

That means if you invested in a fund that tracks the Standard & Poor's 500 index, you have little to show for the past 12 months.


Market volatility causes IPO market to stall out in 2015

NEW YORK (AP) The volatile trading that defined 2015 led to a choppy market for companies wanting to go public.

The number of U.S. companies that successfully made an initial public offering in 2015 dropped by more than 40 percent compared with a year ago, according to a report by IPO research firm Renaissance Capital. The money raised was considerably lower as well; from $85.3 billion last year, to $30 billion in 2015.

That signaled significantly reduced ambitions from companies as they hit the market, and some fear on the part of investors.


Social media, upgraded theaters help drive $11 billion year

LOS ANGELES (AP) It takes more than "Star Wars" to make an $11 billion year.

Disney and J.J. Abrams pushed 2015 over the mark days before its conclusion, but many factors helped make the year the biggest of all time including social media and better theatrical experiences which helped draw audiences away from their home entertainment centers and into the multiplex.

In 2014, "The Interview" was released in theaters and online at the same time, and this year saw streaming service Netflix enter theatrical feature territory with "Beasts of No Nation" and "The Ridiculous 6," both of which played in theaters and online simultaneously, alarming exhibitors. Yet attendance at the movies was up around four percent for the year, according to Jeff Goldstein, Warner Bros.' executive vice president of domestic distribution.


Swift's world tour tops Pollstar's 2015 list with $250.4 million

NEW YORK (AP) Taylor Swift's star-studded "1989 World Tour" topped Pollstar's list of worldwide tours of the year, grossing $250.4 million.

Swift's tour grossed $70 million more than the No. 2 tour of the year, AC/DC's "Rock or Bust World Tour," which brought in $180 million.

One Direction, U2 and Foo Fighters rounded out the Top 5 tours of the year.


Target's turnaround gets shoppers back into stores

NEW YORK (AP) Target's efforts to draw shoppers back into its stores are paying off.

The sales improvements come as Target continues a turnaround plan it started after it hired CEO Brian Cornell in 2014. As part of the plan, Target got rid of its money-losing Canadian operations and revamped its management team.

But the key to luring shoppers back has been changes in stores. Target has been updating its fashion, baby products and home decor. It's overhauled the fit of its jeans, resulting in at least 10 percent sales growth.


How much money you just saved on gas in 2015

NEW YORK (AP) U.S. drivers saved a bunch of money on gasoline this past year, as Saudi Arabia and other OPEC members kept the pumps going in the face of low oil prices.

Massive stockpiles of crude globally turned 2015 into the year of the pain-free fill up.

More of the same is expected for 2016 as oil prices remain low.


Cameras allow New Year's views all over world

NEW YORK (AP) If you aren't looking for a rockin' New Year's Eve or forced small talk between television hosts, an online service is offering a way to experience the beginning of 2016 as it happens all over the world.

New Year's Eve is usually the year's most popular day at EarthCam.com, a 20-year-old service that shows live camera views from hundreds of landmarks. The hourly celebrations began at 11 a.m. EST with beach fireworks on the Philippine island of Boracay and continue until the last stroke of midnight in Kauai, Hawaii, five hours behind Times Square.

The celebrations are offered without fanfare or commentators.


US applications for unemployment benefits jumped last week

WASHINGTON (AP) More Americans requested unemployment benefits last week, but the level remains near historic lows in a positive sign for the job market.

Applications for jobless aid jumped 20,000 to a seasonally adjusted 287,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. The less volatile 4-week average climbed 4,500 to 277,000.

Over the past 12 months, the number of people receiving benefits has fallen 7.1 percent to 2.2 million.


Average US rate on 30-year mortgages rises to 4.01 percent

WASHINGTON (AP) Average long-term U.S. mortgage rates crossed the 4 percent mark this week, a slight increase in the wake of the Federal Reserve decision this month to hike a key short-term interest rate.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday that the average rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage rose to 4.01 percent from 3.96 percent a week earlier. That rate has risen from its 3.87 percent average a year ago and has been steadily increasing since late October.

Still, borrowing costs are well below historic average of 6 percent for 30-year mortgage rates.


The Dow Jones industrial average fell 178.84 points, or 1 percent, to 17,425.03. The Standard & Poor's 500 index lost 19.42 points, or 0.9 percent, to 2,043.94. The Nasdaq composite fell 58.43 points, or 1.2 percent, to 5,007.41.

Benchmark U.S. crude climbed 44 cents, or 1.2 percent, to close at $37.04 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, gained 82 cents, or 2.2 percent, to close at $37.28 a barrel in London.

In other energy trading in New York, wholesale gasoline rose 3.7 cents to $1.267 a gallon, heating oil rose 2.2 cents to $1.101 a gallon and natural gas rose 12.3 cents to $2.337 per 1,000 cubic feet.