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Tablets a hit with kids, but experts worry

NEW YORK (AP) — Tablet computers are so easy to use that even a 3-year-old can master them. And that has some pediatricians and other health experts worried.

Since navigating a tablet generally doesn't require the ability to type or read, children as young as toddlers can quickly learn how to stream movies, scroll through family photos or play simple games.

That ease-of-use makes tablets —and smartphones— popular with busy parents who use them to pacify their kids during car rides, restaurant outings or while they're at home trying to get dinner on the table. And many feel a little less guilty about it if they think there's educational value to the apps and games their children use.

The devices are expected to rank among the top holiday gifts for children this year. Gadget makers such as Samsung have introduced tablets specifically designed for kids and many manufacturers of adult tablets now include parental controls. Those products are in addition to the slew of kiddie tablets produced by electronic toy makers such as LeapFrog, Vtech and Toys R Us.

But some experts note there's no evidence that screen time — whether from a TV or tablet — provides any educational or developmental benefits for babies and toddlers. Yet it takes away from activities that do promote brain development, such as non-electronic toys and adult interaction. They also say that too much screen time has been linked to behavior problems and delayed social development in older children.

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After Christmas begins before the holiday

It's beginning to look a lot like ... the day after Christmas?

On the day before Christmas, retailers turned shoppers' attention to the day after the holiday.

Amazon.com already is offering "after Christmas" deals of up to 70 percent off clothes and 60 percent off some electronics. Old Navy is running TV ads that its "after-holiday sale starts early" with discounts of up to 75 percent off. And CVS was selling a wine cabinet for $10 off at $39.99 and three fleece throws for $9.99 on Christmas Eve.

Stores usually wait until after Christmas to offer discounts of up to 70 percent or more on holiday merchandise that didn't sell. But Americans who are still worried about the economy have held tightly to their purse strings this year, and store sales have fallen for the past three consecutive weeks.

The pre-Christmas deals come as retailers are feeling pressure to attract Americans into stores during the final week of what's typically the busiest shopping period of the year. The two-month stretch that begins on Nov. 1 is important because retailers can make up to 40 percent of their annual sales during that time.

Sales at U.S. stores dropped 3.1 percent to $42.7 billion for the week that ended on Sunday compared with the same week last year, according to ShopperTrak, which tracks data at 40,000 locations. That follows a decline of 2.9 percent and 0.8 percent during the first and second weeks of the month, respectively.

Stores had a problem even getting Americans into stores, let alone getting them to spend. The number of shoppers fell 21.2 percent during the week that ended on Sunday, according to ShopperTrak.

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US durable goods orders jumped 3.5 pct. in Nov.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Businesses stepped up their orders for long-lasting manufactured goods in November. And a key category that signals business investment plans climbed at the fastest pace in 10 months.

The surge in orders for durable goods, which are products expected to last at least three years, was the latest evidence of a rebound in manufacturing. The gains will likely provide support for the economy into 2014.

The Commerce Department said Tuesday that orders for durable goods jumped 3.5 percent last month compared with October, when they had fallen 0.7 percent. The increase was led by a 21.8 percent surge in demand for commercial aircraft, which can be volatile.

Core capital goods, a category that tracks business investment, rose 4.5 percent, the biggest gain since January. This category is seen as a gauge of business plans to expand and modernize and as a measure of business confidence.

Economists said the stronger-than-expected November gain and a revision for October, which had previously been reported as a sharper 1.6 percent drop, were encouraging signs.

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US sales of new homes slipped 2.1 percent in Nov.

WASHINGTON (AP) — New-home sales dipped in November, but the government released more positive figures for the previous three months, a sign that housing may be regaining strength after a summer lull.

Sales slipped 2.1 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 464,000, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. The slight drop occurred after sales had surged to a rate of 474,000 in October. That was the fastest pace since 2008 and was 17.6 percent above the September level — the biggest one-month jump in 21 years.

The annual pace of new-home sales remains well below the 700,000 generally consistent with a healthy market. But economists are encouraged by a pickup in sales after a slowdown likely caused by higher mortgage rates.

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Feds expand probe into Mercedes tail light problem

DETROIT (AP) — U.S. safety regulators have expanded an investigation into rear light failures in Mercedes-Benz C-Class luxury vehicles.

The probe now covers nearly 253,000 cars from the 2008 through 2011 model years.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says the stop, tail and turn signal lights can fail because of a melted electrical connector. The agency and Mercedes have received 402 complaints, including five fires and one injury.

Mercedes also reported more than 23,000 warranty claims that could be tied to the problem.

The safety agency has upgraded the probe to an engineering analysis. That's a step closer to a recall, but so far no recall has been issued.

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China credit market tensions stoke wider concerns

BEIJING (AP) — For the second time in six months, a shortage of cash in one corner of China's banking industry has stirred anxiety in financial markets.

Though tensions eased somewhat Tuesday after China's central bank provided billions of dollars in short-term funding to banks, financial market analysts are keeping a close watch on developments in China's credit markets. Because China is now the world's second-largest economy, tensions there could have repercussions worldwide.

On Monday, the interest rate charged on 7-day loans from one bank to another spiked to nearly 9 percent this week, well above the usual 2-3 percent. That came even after the Chinese central bank injected 300 billion yuan ($50 billion) of extra credit into the interbank market last week. On Tuesday, the People's Bank of China injected a further 29 billion yuan ($4.8 billion) into Chinese banks. This time, the injection worked and the rate banks pay each other a one-week loan eased to 6.2 percent, according to the National Interbank Funding Center.

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By The Associated Press=

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 62.94 points, or 0.4 percent, to close at 16,357.55. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 5.33 points, or 0.3 percent, to 1,833.32. The Nasdaq composite added 6.51 points, or 0.2 percent, to 4,155.42.

Benchmark U.S. oil for February delivery rose 31 cents to close at $99.22 in a shortened session on the New York Mercantile Exchange. In other energy futures trading on Nymex, natural gas fell 5 cents to $4.42 per 1,000 cubic feet (28.32 cubic meters).Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils, was up 34 cents to $111.90 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.