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NEW YORK â¿¿ When it comes to big discounts, better late than never. Shoppers will see the same jaw-dropping "70 percent off" sale signs and deep discounts during the final weekend before Christmas that they saw last year. That's good news for shoppers, but bad news for stores, whose profits will likely suffer in their attempt to salvage a holiday shopping season that so far has been disappointing. By Retail Writer Anne D'Innocenzio.

AP photos.

Eds: This story stands as this week's ON THE MONEY column.


In the days since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., a shell-shocked nation has looked for reasons. The list of culprits include easy access to guns, a strained mental-health system and the "culture of violence" â¿¿ the entertainment industry's embrace of violence in movies, TV shows and, especially, video games. By Lou Kesten.

AP Photo.


â¿¿ OBAMA GUN CONTROL â¿¿ Spurred by a horrific elementary school shooting, President Barack Obama tasked his administration Wednesday with creating concrete proposals to reduce the gun violence that has plagued the country.


DETROIT â¿¿ The U.S. government's foray into the car business is slowly coming to an end. The Treasury Department plans to sell its remaining stake in General Motors in the next year or so, winding down a $50 billion bailout that saved the automaker but also set off a heated debate about government intervention in private business. Although taxpayers will lose money on the deal, GM has bounced back, piling up $16 billion in profits over three years. Now it looks forward to losing the stigma of government ownership â¿¿ including the derisive moniker "Government Motors." By Auto Writer Tom Krisher.

AP photos.

â¿¿ ALLY FINANCIAL-PAYMENT â¿¿ Ally Financial, the former lending arm of GM, repays $4.5 billion of bailout aid owed to the government. The company still owes taxpayers about $11.4 billion.


WASHINGTON â¿¿ The government has announced new online child privacy rules it says give parents greater control over the personal information that can be collected from preteens on the Internet. Personal information about kids under 13 that cannot be collected without a parent's permission now includes a child's location as well as photos, videos and audio that contain a human image or voice. By Richard Lardner.



WASHINGTON â¿¿ Still short of a "fiscal cliff" deal with the White House, top House Republicans are laboring to rally their rank-and-file behind an alternative plan that would prevent looming tax increases for everyone but those earning over $1 million a year. House Speaker John Boehner's so-called Plan B, which is aimed at letting GOP lawmakers vote to prevent New Year's Day tax boosts on more than 99 percent of taxpayers, was getting a cool reception from conservatives reluctant to boost anyone's taxes, raising questions about whether it could pass the GOP-run House. Even if it could survive in the House, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., declared it dead in his chamber, and the White House rejected it as well. By Alan Fram.

AP photos, video, audio


â¿¿ FISCAL CLIFF-GLANCE â¿¿ A look at the latest offers as Obama, Boehner negotiate to avert the year-end 'fiscal cliff'

â¿¿ FISCAL CLIFF-SOCIAL SECURITY â¿¿ Obama offer to slow growth of Social Security benefits at odds with top Democrats in Congress.

â¿¿ FISCAL CLIFF-BOEHNER â¿¿ House Speaker John Boehner says President Barack Obama should support a Republican plan to avoid January tax increases on everyone but those earning over $1 million.


FITCH-US â¿¿ Fitch Ratings is warning that the U.S. is more likely to lose its top-notch "AAA" rating if lawmakers cannot agree on how to cut the deficit, sending the country over the "fiscal cliff" of broad government spending cuts and tax increases next year.


WASHINGTON â¿¿ The U.S. is seeking a more balanced trade relationship with China at talks that could set the tone for cooperation after political transitions in the world's two largest economies.


WASHINGTON â¿¿ U.S. builders broke ground on fewer houses in November after starting work in October at the fastest pace in four years. Superstorm Sandy likely slowed starts in the Northeast. The Commerce Department says builders began construction of homes at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 861,000. That was 3 percent less than October's annual rate of 888,000, the fastest since July 2008. By Christopher S. Rugaber.


Taxes. They are the center of the discussions on the so-called "fiscal cliff" and the one thing that creates the biggest headache for most small business owners. But Dane Stangler, who researches and writes about entrepreneurship for the Ewing Marion Kaufmann Foundation says the problem isn't the amount of taxes that small business owners have to pay â¿¿ instead it's the complexity of dealing with them. Stangler talks with AP about this and other issues affecting small business owners. By Joyce M. Rosenberg.

AP photo.


NEW YORK â¿¿ Stocks dipped Wednesday, recording their first loss of the week. President Barack Obama and Republicans in Congress sniped at each other, and a deadline to avoid sweeping tax increases and government spending cuts drew closer. General Motors surged after the government announced plans to shed its ownership stake in the company.

â¿¿ OIL PRICES â¿¿ The price of oil jumps 2 percent to more than $90 a barrel as the government reported shrinking crude supplies, and some good news overseas offsets concerns about the political wrangling in Washington.

â¿¿ MEDICARE WASTE â¿¿ Investigators find Medicare is paying four times the cost for off-the-shelf back braces.



GENEVA â¿¿ Switzerland's UBS will pay $1.5 billion to international regulators following a probe into the rigging of a key global interest rate. In admitting to fraud, Switzerland's largest bank became the second bank, after Britain's Barclays, to settle over the rate-rigging scandal. The fine, which will be paid to authorities in the U.S., Britain and Switzerland, also comes just over a week after HSBC PLC agreed to pay nearly $2 billion for alleged money laundering. By John Heilprin.

AP photos


â¿¿ SWITZERLAND-UBS PENALTY-GLANCE â¿¿ A look at bank scandals since the financial crisis.


NEW YORK â¿¿ Nearly five months after a major software malfunction at Knight Capital roiled financial markets, the trading firm has agreed to sell itself to a competitor, Getco, in a cash-and-stock deal that the companies value at $1.4 billion.

â¿¿ GERMANY-DEUTSCHE BANK â¿¿ Deutsche Bank's co-CEO acknowledges calling a senior German politician following a raid at the bank's offices last week, and apologizes if the move gave people the impression that he tried to exert political influence on a legal case.



NEW YORK â¿¿ When it comes to the calories in diet soda, Dr Pepper thinks 10 is the new zero. Starting next month, the country's No. 3 soft drink company plans to roll out 10-calorie versions of its five big biggest soda brands: 7-Up, Sunkist, Canada Dry, RC Cola and A&W Root Beer. The drinks are an extension of its Dr Pepper Ten launched last year. By Food Industry Writer Candice Choi.


NEW YORK â¿¿ FedEx is more pessimistic about the U.S. economy than it was three months ago, but more assured of its own ability to grow earnings. The world's second-largest package delivery company lowered its economic forecast for the U.S., saying that there remains a lot of uncertainty for the company and the country. Its forecast for the current quarter, which incorporates the critical holiday season, falls short of Wall Street expectations. By Samantha Bomkamp.

AP Photos.

â¿¿ VERTEX PHARMA-BLACK BOX WARNING â¿¿ The Food and Drug Administration is attaching a black box warning to the Vertex Pharmaceuticals hepatitis C treatment Incivek over a potentially fatal rash.

â¿¿ GERMANY-PORSCHE â¿¿ German prosecutors have charged two former Porsche executives with market manipulation in connection with the sports car company's failed takeover of Volkswagen.



NEW YORK â¿¿ The CEO of media company Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Lisa Gersh, is stepping down after less than a year at the job.


LONDON â¿¿ Institutional chaos and confusion â¿¿ but not a cover-up â¿¿ were to blame for the BBC's disastrous handling of pedophilia allegations involving one of its best-known children's television personalities, an internal review found Wednesday. The review absolved BBC executives of trying to bury a potentially embarrassing story, saying that weak management and poor leadership were to blame for the fact that a planned expose about the late TV star, Jimmy Savile, never aired. By Raphael Satter.

AP photos


ROCHESTER, N.Y. â¿¿ Eastman Kodak will receive about $525 million from the sale of its digital imaging patents, money the struggling photo pioneer says will help it emerge from bankruptcy protection in the first half of next year.


ATLANTA â¿¿ It's hard to make headlines with a portable music player these days. It's old hat by now to carry around thousands of songs in your hip pocket, whether on an iPod or a smartphone. But there's been a price for portability. You are listening to your favorite music delivered only after a host of technology has diminished the resolution of the audio. It sounds fine, but the makers of a new portable music player are betting there are still some people out there who want even better quality â¿¿ and are willing to pay. By Ron Harris.

AP Photo

â¿¿ NINTENDO-TV ON THE GAME CONSOLE â¿¿ Nintendo is switching on its TVii service in the U.S. and Canada on Thursday, launching a platform that transforms the tablet-like controller of the new Wii U game console into a remote that changes the channel on your TV and puts programs on the Web just a few finger taps away.

â¿¿ SIRIUS XM-CEO â¿¿ Satellite radio company Sirius XM Radio has named one of its executives, James Meyer, as its interim CEO while it looks for a replacement for Mel Karmazin.

â¿¿ BRAZIL-IPHONE â¿¿ A Brazilian company has begun selling smartphones with the iPhone brand after winning the legal right to use the name in Latin America's biggest country. Adding insult to Apple Inc.'s injury, the phone runs on the archrival Android operating system.

â¿¿ GOOGLE MUSIC-SCAN AND MATCH â¿¿ Google is turning on a "scan and match" service for Google Music users to store copies of their songs online, offering for free what Apple charges $25 a year for.



TATAY RIVER, Cambodia â¿¿ Up a sweeping, jungle valley in a remote corner of Cambodia, Chinese engineers and workers are raising a 100-meter- (330-foot-) high dam over the protests of villagers and activists. It's a scenario that is hardly unique. China's giant state enterprises and banks have completed, are working on or are proposing some 300 dams from Algeria to Myanmar, making China the world's No. 1 dam builder. By Denis D. Gray and Elaine Kurtenbach.

AP photos, video, interactive.


PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti â¿¿ The sharp tang of varnish hangs in the air as a dozen women and a few men cut and scrape logs into bowls destined for U.S. department stores. In other Haitian workshops, vases sparkle with sequins of pink, green and blue, and dragonflies leap from picture frames cut from recycled steel drums. Three years after a devastating earthquake, there's still not much economic traction in this long impoverished Caribbean country, but one small niche has taken off: arts and crafts. By Trenton Daniel and Martha Mendoza.

AP photos


BRUSSELS â¿¿ The European Union's health chief is calling for bigger warnings covering cigarette packs and bans on certain flavorings like menthol, strawberry and vanilla, which can draw youngsters to smoking.

AP photos


FRANKFURT, Germany â¿¿ The European Central Bank says it will once again accept Greek government bonds as collateral for loans to banks, citing Greece's progress in fixing its finances and economy. It's an important way for Greece's shaky banks to get the money they need to keep operating.


â¿¿ GREECE-FINANCIAL CRISIS â¿¿ Civil servants in Greece are on a 24-hour strike against new austerity measures that will see more pay cuts next year as well as a rare round of job cuts.

â¿¿ GERMANY-ECONOMY â¿¿ A key measure of German business optimism rose slightly more than expected in December, suggesting Europe's largest economy will avoid a recession despite a recent slowdown in growth.

â¿¿ FRANCE-BANKS â¿¿ France's government is proposing to split banks' risky trading activities from their more traditional lending operations as part of a Europe-wide effort to shore up a fragile industry that contributed to the continent's financial crisis.


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The year in ETFs

Exchange-traded funds remain relative upstarts compared with mutual funds. But they're leading the race for investors' assets, on Main Street as well as Wall Street. ETF assets have doubled over the past three years, reaching $1.3 trillion. They continue to grow at a faster pace than mutual fund assets. So far this year -- with more than $150 billion in net deposits through November -- ETFs are on track to match a 2008 record for the amount of new cash taken in, according to Morningstar.


Investors shun gun makers

In the aftermath of last week's school shooting in Newtown, Conn., the debate over gun control has heated up. Investors have also begun to shun some of the nation's largest gun makers.

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