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    Cyber Monday safety tips

    This is good advice to heed throughout the rest of the holiday shopping season

    Shoppers who braved the malls on Black Friday might have risked some pushing and shoving but not a lot more.

    Those taking part in Cyber Monday run the risk of having their identity stolen. The risk is greater because they are making their purchases online, where a data breach or one-on-one hacking can expose shoppers' financial information.

    Nearly 13 million U.S. consumers were victims of some type identity theft last year, so it's a good bet that identity thieves will be out in full force this year, not just on Cyber Monday but for the rest of the shopping season.

    Safety tips

    Most consumers have heard the advice more than once, but it probably bears repeating. Here are some tips for keeping your identity safe:

    • Be savvy about Wi-Fi hotspots –Make sure you don't share personal or financial information over an unsecured Wi-Fi network. You'll know it's not secure if you can access it without a user name and password.
    • Make sure the site is legitimate – Before entering any credit card or personal information, look for a closed padlock on your web browser or a URL address that begins with http or https.
    • Protect your personal information – Make sure the information requested is only that needed to complete the transaction. Check the website's privacy policy to understand how the information will be used.
    • Keep a clean machine – Smartphones or other devices used for shopping should have up-to-date software.
    • Keep a paper trail – Save records of online transactions and check credit card statements as soon as they arrive. Immediately report any discrepancies.

    Homeowner's policy may help

    "An identity theft or fraud can have a major impact on a consumer, often leaving them to deal with the mess created by cyber criminals," said Richard W. Lavey, president, personal lines and chief marketing officer at The Hanover. "Many consumers may not realize their homeowners insurance policies may help provide protection against the burdens of dealing with identity fraud."

    Lavey suggests reviewing your insurance coverage. He says the better insurance policies now offer expense reimbursement, proactive and restoration services, document replacement assistance, and credit card fraud coverage.

    Already been victimized? The sooner you act, the better. The Federal Trade Commission explains what you should do.

    Shoppers who braved the malls on Black Friday might have risked some pushing and shoving but not a lot more.Those taking part in Cyber Monday run the r...
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    Applebee's nixes soda from kids' menu

    It's the first family-diming restaurant to do so

    Sorry, kids. Applebee's is removing soda from its children's menus, the first family-dining chain to do so, the non-profit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) said.

    “Soda and other sugar drinks promote diabetes, obesity, tooth decay, and even heart disease, and a kids’ menu is no place for disease-promoting drinks,” said CSPI nutrition policy counsel Jessica Almy.  “Kudos to Applebee’s for taking this important step to promote children’s health. Other sit-down chains such as Chili’s should follow Applebee’s lead.”

    Fast-food chains McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, and Dairy Queen deep-sixed soda earlier at the urging of CSPI and other organizations, including MomsRising.org, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, and the UConn Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity.

    Subway, Chipotle, and Panera also exclude sugar drinks from kids’ menus, as does IHOP, which is owned by Applebee’s parent company DineEquity.

    “Responsible restaurants are on the fast track toward making soda for kids a thing of the past,” said Almy.  

    The news comes as New York City enacted a requirement that chain restaurants identify high-salt menu items. Applebee's has said it is already in complaince.

    Sorry, kids. Applebee's is removing soda from its children's menus, the first family-dining chain to do so, the non-profit Center for Science in the Public...
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    Suburbs becoming only affordable option for first time buyers

    Record rents and rising interest rates and home prices will squeeze potential buyers

    Two housing trends coincided in the wake of the financial crisis to change the demographic make-up of neighborhoods.

    Homes in urban areas lost much of their value due to the high number of foreclosures. At the same time, a new generation of homeowners came of age, with a strong preference for city life.

    These young people snapped up these homes at bargain prices. But today, homes in these newly-desirable areas are no longer the bargains they once were. That means entry-level buyers may have to look elsewhere.

    Affordable suburbs

    In its 2016 housing trends forecast, real estate marketplace Zillow predicts first-time buyers who would prefer city living will have to look in the suburbs, which may offer the only affordable options. Reinforcing that trend will be the almost-certain rise in mortgage rates that will begin to erode home affordability.

    Zillow predicts these factors will conspire to make it harder to purchase a home in the coming year:

    • Growth in home values will outpace incomes, especially for low-income Americans. In 2016, those whose incomes fall in the bottom third of all incomes will be priced out of homeownership and unable to afford even the least expensive homes on the market.
    • Rising rents won't let up in 2016, and will continue to set new records. The next year will bring the least affordable median rents ever.
    • The median age of first-time buyers will reach new highs in 2016 as Millennials put off homeownership and other major life decisions.

    Suburbs with a city feel

    Zillow also predicts that buyers priced out of the urban center should be able to find suburban property that meets some of their desires. Many older suburbs, which tend to be closer to the city core, will become hot areas.

    Neighborhoods that are dense, walkable, and have an urban feel will be 2016's new hot spots, especially if they offer easy access to the city.

    “In 2016, we'll start to see more people in hot coastal markets forced to move farther from the core of the city to find housing,” said Zillow chief economist Dr. Svenja Gudell. “When they get there, they'll be looking for amenity-rich suburbs – mini-cities, with walkable cores and an urban feel.”

    Meanwhile, the current tight inventory of available homes may persist into 2016. Gudell says slowly rising interest rates may make many current homeowners think twice about selling, and many of them will decide to remodel their current homes instead.

    Two housing trends coincided in the wake of the financial crisis to change the demographic make-up of neighborhoods.Homes in urban areas lost much of t...
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      Plastic building materials make the “tiny” house energy efficient

      Building materials industry may be embracing the tiny trend

      As we have previously noted, “tiny” houses -- small dwellings often less than 200 square feet -- are becoming increasingly popular in the U.S.

      A tiny house is often built from scratch by the person who plans to occupy it, using materials close at hand. But more and more, tiny houses are being manufactured by companies.

      Recently, Zack Giffin, co-host of FYI Network's "Tiny House Nation," teamed up with manufacturers to build an energy efficient tiny house using new plastic building products that are designed to maximize a home's overall energy efficiency.

      Cheap to build and operate

      Since people usually build a tiny house because it costs less, the builders thought, "why not make it as energy efficient to operate?" That way it's not only inexpensive to build, but also to heat and cool.

      By some estimates U.S. residences use more than 40% of the nation's energy. That's due in part to older, less efficient building materials. The plastic tiny house uses new plastic building products that promote efficiency in any size building.

      The prototype is set up at the California Science Center in Los Angeles, where guests can explore it to learn how these new building products, used both inside and out, can reduce energy use, improve durability, and make it easier to maintain.

      Improve any home's efficiency

      "This tiny house is a great way to show how modern building materials can improve any home's energy efficiency," said Steve Russell, vice president of plastics at the American Chemistry Council. "In one small space, visitors can see more than a dozen ways that innovative plastic building products work together to help save energy and money on utility bills."

      Russell credited Griffin for his knowledge in building and design conservation. He said he hopes the plastic tiny house will call attention to the need for improved energy efficiency in all homes.

      The building products used to construct the prototype include airtight polyurethane foam insulation, a UV-resistant polycarbonate skylight, and plastic solar shingles that both protect the roof and generate energy.

      As we have previously noted, “tiny” houses -- small dwellings often less than 200 square feet -- are becoming increasingly popular in the U.S.A tiny ho...
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      Pending home sales show little change in October

      But they did show another year-over-year increase

      After two straight months of declines, pending home sales inched higher in October, as gains in the Northeast and West were offset by declines in the Midwest and South.

      The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reports its pending Home Sales Index (PHSI), which is based on contract signings, was up a miniscule 0.2% last month to 107.7. The index is now up 3.9% from October 2014 and has increased year-over-year for 14 months in a row.

      A plateau in pending sales

      The lack of strong movement may be the result of buyers struggling to overcome a scant number of available homes for sale and prices that are rising too fast in some markets.

      "Contract signings in October made the most strides in the Northeast, which hasn't seen much of the drastic price appreciation and supply constraints that are occurring in other parts of the country," said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. "In the most competitive metro areas -- particularly those in the South and West -- affordability concerns remain heightened as low inventory continues to drive up prices."

      Yun notes that although contract activity has slightly trended downward since the spring, the strengthening of several local job markets continues to fuel the improved demand for buying that has now pushed existing-sales above a five million sales pace for eight consecutive months.

      "Areas that are heavily reliant on oil-related jobs are the exception and have already started to see some softness in sales because of declining energy prices," he added.

      Regional contracts

      • The PHSI in the Northeast rose 4.5% to 93.6 in October, and is now 6.8% above a year ago.
      • In the Midwest the index declined 1.0% to 103.9, but remains 3.3% above October 2014.
      • Pending home sales in the South dipped 1.7% to an index of 118.1 last month and are now 0.3% below last October.
      • The index in the West climbed 1.7% to 106.2, and is 10.4% above a year ago.

      The outlook

      With demand expected to remain stable through the final two months of the year, Yun is forecasting existing-home sales to finish 2015 at a pace of 5.3 million -- the highest since 2006.

      Although further expansion in existing-sales is expected next year, continuing inventory shortages and affordability pressures from rising prices and mortgage rates will likely temper sales growth to around 3% (5.45 million) in 2016. Home prices are expected to slightly moderate from a 6% increase in 2015 to 5% next year.

      Yun said he believes that unless sizable supply gains occur for new and existing homes, “prices and rents will continue to exceed wages into next year and hamstring a large pool of potential buyers trying to buy a home.”

      After two straight months of declines, pending home sales inched higher in October, as gains in the Northeast and West were offset by declines in the Midwe...
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      Blue Buffalo recalls Cub Size Wilderness Wild Chews Bones

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Blue Buffalo Company is recalling one production lot of Cub Size Wilderness Wild Chews Bones.

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      No illnesses have been reported to date.

      The product was distributed starting November 19, 2015, in PetSmart stores in California, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington

      The recalled product comes individually shrink-wrapped in plastic with the UPC number 840243110087 printed on a sticker affixed to the product, and an expiration date of November 4, 2017, printed as “exp 110417” on the shrink-wrap.

      The following product is being recalled:

      Product NameUPC CodeExpiration Date
      Cub Size Wilderness Wild Chews Bone840243110087November 4, 2017

      Customers who purchased the recalled product should dispose of it or return it to the place of purchase for full refund.

      Consumers with questions may contact Blue Buffalo at 888-641-9736 from 8 AM to 5 PM (ET) Monday through Friday, or by email at Bluebuffalo4260@stericycle.com.

      Blue Buffalo Company is recalling one production lot of Cub Size Wilderness Wild Chews Bones. The product may be contaminated with Salmonella. ...
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      Consumers disappoint retailers on Black Friday

      Two-day sales tally may be less than last year

      Despite the hype and doorbuster bargains, consumers were less inclined to jam into malls on Black Friday, according to a preliminary sales tally. They were also less likely to shop online.

      ShopperTrak, a consumer analytics firm, estimates consumers spent $12.1 billion on Thanksgiving and Black Friday. If those numbers hold up, it would be less than was spent over those two days last year.

      Specifically, Thanksgiving Day accounted for an estimated $1.8 billion in sales, while Black Friday brought in an estimated $10.4 billion.

      Early sales take a toll

      Is this a sign of an impending recession, or simply a case of early sales? Kevin Kearns, ShopperTrak chief revenue officer, says it's probably the latter, with retailers cannibalizing the big shopping day with early sales.

      “This year, we saw Black Friday ads emerge before Halloween, as retailers aimed to get at the shopper’s wallet early,” he said.

      Kearns says evidence suggests these early promotions generated sales prior to the Black Friday weekend. Money that was spent on Black Friday last year may have been spent during the previous two weeks this year.

      Reinforcing a trend

      “Fewer visits on both days reinforce the trend we’ve seen throughout the year, in which shoppers are researching products ahead of time, targeting their store visits, and arriving in-store with the intention of making a purchase,” Kearns said. “The decrease in shopper visits on Thanksgiving Day also lends itself to the social backlash against store openings on the holiday.”

      Meanwhile, BestBlackFriday.com projects Cyber Monday spending will be strong, approaching $2.25 billion. But Phil Dengler, a principal at the website, says it too is losing its ability to attract attention.

      Declining importance of Cyber Monday

      “Honestly, Black Friday and Thanksgiving had so many more doorbusters online this year than ever before, so Cyber Monday is really not necessary anymore,” Dengler told ConsumerAffairs. “Regardless, we will still continue to cover it as long as stores have sales. In the end though, we say retire it.”

      Dengler says Best Buy stands out this year as the retailer with the best deals. He cites the company's extensive Cyber Monday ad, praising its diverse selection.

      As an example, he cites a $300 Best Buy gift card when you trade in a working smartphone and lease or activate a Samsung Galaxy S6, S6 Edge, S6 Edge+ or a Note 5.  

      Despite the hype and doorbuster bargains, consumers were less inclined to jam into malls on Black Friday, according to a preliminary sales tally. They were...
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      Black Friday shoppers beware: thievery is pretty prominent on this retail "holiday"

      Be sure that your items are safe before diving back into the shopping fray, or shop online to avoid the risk

      Everyone is being swept up by the Black Friday craze this year; stores like Target and Walmart are boasting of strong sales numbers as we head into the weekend. While the huge discounts and masses of people are hallmarks of this retail “holiday”, thievery is something that it has become infamous for in recent years as well. Consumers should stay vigilant when it comes to keeping themselves and their newly acquired items safe.

      In a report from Fortune.com, insurance company Travelers said that thefts are, on average, 2% higher on Black Friday than any other day of the year, and for good reason. Many consumers will be storing bought items in their vehicles and jumping back into the fray to see what other deals they can find; this is optimal for thieves who will be prowling parking lots in search of valuables.

      Consumers are not safe when they leave the mall though. When Travelers broke down all claims made on Black Friday, they found that thefts were 28% higher than any other day of the year when they included ones made off-premise (not at the mall or retail store). “On Black Friday, thieves are just much more focused on the opportunity than on a regular basis,” said Patrick Gee, senior vice president at Travelers.

      Take away the opportunity to steal

      Thieves are not too picky about which items they can get their hands on, but statistics show that there are some trends associated with items stolen. On average, clothing and apparel are 40% more likely to be stolen than other items and toys are three times more likely to be stolen. Despite the huge surge in sales on Black Friday, electronic items are no more likely to be stolen on this day than any other day of the year.

      Consumers can take several different steps to make sure that their goods are safe while they shop. If you insist on keeping items in your car while you go back to shop, make sure everything is covered or out of sight when they're in your car; thieves who see an item they want will be much more likely to take it if given the opportunity.

      Taking away the opportunity to steal is probably your best bet, though. After checking out, bring your items straight home so that they're safe. You can also remove yourself from the equation altogether by hunting for deals online.

      Everyone is being swept up by the Black Friday craze this year; stores like Target and Walmart are boasting of strong sales numbers as we head into the wee...
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      Failure to report to the CPSC costs Philips Lighting North America millions

      The company did not report defective lamps

      Philips Lighting North America of Somerset, N.J., will pay a $2 million civil penalty to the government, settling charges that it  knowingly failed to report information to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) about a defect and an unreasonable risk of serious injury with EnergySaver (a.k.a. “Marathon” or “Marathon Classic”) compact fluorescent lamps.

      After numerous complaints about glass separating from the body of the lamps and striking people and objects, and attempting multiple design changes to fix the problem, Philips failed to report the matter to the CPSC. The incidents resulted in ten reports of lacerations and seven reports of property damage.

      In addition to paying the $2 million civil penalty, Philips has agreed to implement and maintain a compliance program to ensure compliance with the Consumer Product Safety Act (CPSA) and a related system of internal controls and procedures.

      Compliance program

      The compliance program requires written standards and policies and written procedures to ensure that all information regarding the firm’s compliance with the CPSA, including reports and complaints, whether an injury is referenced or not, is conveyed to the firm’s responsible employees. The compliance program also must address:

      • confidential employee reporting of compliance concerns to a senior manager;

      • effective communication of compliance policies and procedures, including training;

      • senior management responsibility for, and board oversight of, compliance; and

      • requirements for record retention.

      The lamps were recalled in August 2011 after Philips had manufactured about 1.86 million units. Grocery and home center stores, online retailers, and professional electrical distributors sold the lamps from March 2007 through July 2011 for between $11 and $24 each.

      Philips does not admit to the CPSC staff’s charges.

      Philips Lighting North America of Somerset, N.J., will pay a $2 million civil penalty to the government, settling charges that it  knowingly failed to repo...
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      Emphasis already shifting to Cyber Monday

      Amazon will join Walmart in offering deals early

      Make no mistake, there will be plenty of consumers jamming stores to take advantage of Black Friday deals. But the emphasis has already shifted to Cyber Monday and beyond, as retailers jockey for position to sell gifts between now and Christmas Day.

      Amazon.com has extended its holiday promotions with new deals that start on Saturday and run through Monday.

      While Black Friday may be bigger for brick-and-mortar stores, an Internet-only retailer like Amazon makes the most of Cyber Monday. Last year, Amazon sold more than 43 million items worldwide, which was a record-breaking 500 items per second.

      Some of last year's big sellers were the Samsung 40” Smart LED TV, GoPro HERO4, Disney Frozen Elsa Doll, Anki DRIVE Smart Robot Car Racing Game, LORAC PRO Palette, and Cuisinart 5-in-1 Griddler.

      This year's deals

      This year's Cyber Monday deals will include the Amazon Fire for $34.99; the LG Electronics 60” 1080p TV, less than $700; $10 off $50 orders of select Black & Decker and STANLEY tools; up to 45% off on select Wilton bakeware; up to 50% off on select Coleman gear; and 65% off select cashmere for women.

      Amazon Prime members get unlimited free two-day shipping on more than 20 million items and unlimited free same-day delivery on more than a million items in 16 metro areas.

      But if you aren't a Prime member, you'll need to read shipping details carefully. Amazon offers free shipping on eligible orders of $35 or more.

      Early start for Walmart

      Meanwhile, Walmart says it's moving up its Cyber Monday schedule to 8 p.m. Sunday night to provide a simpler and more convenient experience for customers. Walmart said it noticed in past years that consumers were searching online for bargains on Sunday evening, then waiting up until midnight to place their orders.

      “It can be exhausting for working parents and millenials to stay up past midnight to shop online, only to wake up early the next day to get ready for work,” said Fernando Madeira, President and CEO, Walmart.com. “By starting Cyber Monday hours earlier on Sunday evening and quadrupling the number of Cyber Monday specials, we’re making it easier for customers to get ahead of the busiest online shopping day of the year and save on the best gifts.”

      Cyber Monday bargains

      Walmart says some of the deals include $500 off an LG 65-inch HDTV and a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 for $599, a savings of $200. Both items will be available with free shipping.

      Other Cyber Monday deals include:

      • Air Hogs Star Wars Remote Control X-34 Landspeeder – $19, plus free shipping to store
      • 14-ft. Trampoline with Enclosure – $189, plus free shipping
      • Porter Cable 3-Tool Combo Kit – $79, plus free shipping
      • Air Hogs Video Drone – $75, plus free shipping
      Make no mistake, there will be plenty of consumers jamming stores to take advantage of Black Friday deals. But the emphasis has already shifted to Cyber Mo...
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      Sharks more deadly than Black Friday, but it's close

      And if the guy behind you in the check out line seems a little tipsy, he probably is

      Anytime crowds head to stores in record number, anything can happen. Black Friday has its share of mayhem and mishaps.

      The website SheBudgets.com has collected a number of interesting facts about the busiest shopping day of the year, and among them – you almost have as much chance of being killed at a Black Friday event as being fatally attacked by a shark.

      In the last five years, the site says, Black Friday has been blamed for seven deaths and 98 injuries. Sharks, on the other hand, kill five and injure 100 people a year. While sharks kill more people, those attacks occur over 365 days – Black Friday is just one day.

      Origin of the name

      How did Black Friday get its name? It has always been accepted fact that the name derives from the fact that most retailers reach the breakeven point by Thanksgiving. After that, everything they make is profit.

      Not so, says SheBudgets. The site claims Philadelphia Police came up with the name in the 1950s because of the horrendous traffic caused by all the shoppers flocking to stores.

      A lot of celebration goes on around Thanksgiving, and it apparently continues into Black Friday. The shopping site RetailMeNot claims 12% of Black Friday shoppers show up drunk. Come to think of it, that could explain a lot of the mayhem and mishaps.

      Quality issues

      SheBudgets makes an interesting claim when it says stores tend to roll out low quality items to entice shoppers. That might have been the case in the past but may not be now.

      Still, we reported several years ago that consumers who purchased flat screen TVs on Black Friday seemed to have a lot of problems with them.

      Finally, Black Friday is not only the busiest day of the year for retailers, it's also the busiest day for plumbers. Most likely it has something to do with the clean-up from the Thanksgiving feast. Too many food scraps down the drain, maybe?

      SheBudgets also notes that 79% of Americans will do at least some of their Black Friday weekend shopping online, certainly easier and safer. Still, millions will hit the mall.

      So stay sober, and stay safe.

      Anytime crowds head to stores in record number, anything can happen. Black Friday has its share of mayhem and mishaps.The website SheBudgets.com has co...
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      Boyle’s Famous Corned Beef recalls beef products

      The products contain hydrolyzed wheat protein, an allergen not listed on the label

      Boyle’s Famous Corned Beef of Kansas City, Mo., is recalling an undetermined amount of beef products.

      The products contain hydrolyzed wheat protein, an allergen not listed on the label.

      There have been no confirmed reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of these products.

      The following products, produced between Nov. 24, 2013, and Nov. 24, 2015, is being recalled.

      • Approximately 20-lb. cases containing “Boyle’s FAMOUS USDA CHOICE SEASONED-COOKED BEEF TOP ROUND.”

      The recalled products, which bear establishment number “EST. M-469” inside the USDA mark of inspection, were shipped to distributors in Iowa, Kansas and Missouri.

      Customers who purchased these products should not consume them, but throw them away or return them to the place of purchase.

      Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Gregg Ouverson at (816) 221-6284.

      Boyle’s Famous Corned Beef of Kansas City, Mo., is recalling an undetermined amount of beef products. The products contain hydrolyzed wheat protein...
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      BRP recalls snowmobiles

      Internal damage to the fuel hose can cause a leak

      BRP U.S. of Sturtevant, Wis., is recalling about 2,800 Ski-Doo snowmobiles.

      Internal damage to the fuel hose can cause a leak, posing a fire hazard.

      No incidents or injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves 68 models of 2016 Ski-Doo snowmobiles equipped with a 600 HO E-TEC engine or an 800R E-TEC engine. The VIN is scribed on the vehicle description decal, which is located on the right hand side of the tunnel. The vehicles came in various colors.

      The snowmobiles, manufactured in Canada, were sold at Ski-Doo dealers nationwide from September 2015, to November 2015, from about $12,000 to $17,000.

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled vehicles and contact BRP to schedule a free repair. BRP is notifying registered consumers directly about this recall.

      Consumers may contact BRP toll-free at 888-272-9222 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (ET) Monday through Sunday, or online at http://www.ski-doo.com/owner-center/safety-recall for more information.

      BRP U.S. of Sturtevant, Wis., is recalling about 2,800 Ski-Doo snowmobiles. Internal damage to the fuel hose can cause a leak, posing a fire hazard...
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      Multi-state E. coli outbreak linked to Costco's chicken salad

      Five people sent to the hospital

      Federal and state health agencies are investigating a multi-state E. coli outbreak that has been linked to chicken salad sold at Costco.

      To date, incidents have been reported in seven states: California, Colorado, Missouri, Montana, Utah, Virginia, and Washington.

      The number of people sickened by the tainted chicken salad is small, but health officials are concerned since Costco products are usually sold in very large containers, and are sometimes purchased to serve at events with many people.

      So far, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) are taking the lead at the federal level, with various state health departments investigating at the local level.

      The E. coli strain has been identified as Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli O157:H7 (STEC O157:H7). That's the same strain that caused illnesses last month and was linked to some Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurants.

      Five people hospitalized

      The CDC says five of the people who have become ill have been hospitalized and two have developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a type of kidney failure. No deaths have been reported.

      Health officials say the evidence available at this time suggests that rotisserie chicken salad made and sold in Costco Wholesale stores in several states is a likely source of this outbreak.

      Fourteen of 16 people purchased or ate rotisserie chicken salad from Costco in the week before the illness started, the CDC said. So far, the investigation has not identified what specific ingredient in the chicken salad is linked to the illness.

      Costco reports that it has removed all remaining rotisserie chicken salad from all stores in the U.S. and stopped further production of the product until further notice.

      If you purchased rotisserie chicken salad from any Costco store in the United States on or before November 20, 2015, you should not eat it and throw it away.

      Even if some of the rotisserie chicken salad has been eaten and no one has gotten sick, throw the rest of the product away, the CDC advised.

      Federal and state health agencies are investigating a multi-state E. coli outbreak that has been linked to chicken salad sold at Costco.To date, incide...
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      Fewer homes on the market holding back sales

      Economist concerned this supply-demand imbalance will hold back market

      The air seems to be coming out of the housing market. While some individual markets are more active than others, nationally there is an unmistakable decline.

      Earlier this week the National Association of Realtors (NAR) reported existing home sales in October fell 3%, to a seasonally-adjusted annual rate of 5.36 million.

      It wasn't rising interest rates that caused the slowdown – rates remain near historic lows. It wasn't rising home prices or an increase in unemployment either. In fact, jobs have been growing, though at a slower pace recently.

      Instead, Jonathan Smoke, chief economist at Realtor.com, says the main reason that fewer houses are selling is that there are fewer houses for sale.

      Shrinking inventory

      “This report reveals a slowing but strong real estate market in the weakest seasonal quarter of the year,” Smoke said. “However, tight supply continues to be a major factor holding back growth in the market.”

      Smoke says inventory is currently down 5% over last October. While that's hurt buyers, it's played to the advantage of sellers. The tight supply of homes has boosted the year-over-year price appreciation to around 6%, which is higher than average.

      Smoke points to a few underlying factors in the data that are clearly positive indicators of the improving health of the market. The first-time buyer share increased to 31%, reversing the one-month decline in September.

      There are also a lot fewer foreclosures. The share of distressed sales fell to 6%, the lowest level since NAR started collecting that data in 2008.

      Unhealthy trend

      On balance, Smoke said it isn't good for the market when supply lags too far behind demand.

      “Tight supply is an impediment to future growth, and we are not seeing new construction grow enough to fill the void,” he said.

      In fact, homebuilders have dramatically curtained activity and are focused on the more upscale market, building fewer entry level homes. As a result, Smoke predicts tight supply will remain a factor for the months and year ahead, moderating gains in sales but also providing firm support for home values.

      The air seems to be coming out of the housing market. While some individual markets are more active than others, nationally there is an unmistakable declin...
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      Personal income, spending inch higher in October

      Jobless claims plunged last week

      Your paycheck may have been a little fatter last month -- not a lot, but fatter nonetheless.

      According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), personal income rose 0.4%, or $68.1 billion in October, with disposable personal income (DPI) -- what you have left after taxes -- up $56.8 billion, or 0.4%.

      At the same time, personal consumption expenditures (PCE) inched $15.2 billion, or 0.1%, higher.

      Incomes

      Wages and salaries shot up by $45.0 billion, compared with an increase of just $2.5 billion a month earlier. Private wages and salaries rose $43.0 billion, and government compensation was up $2.0 billion. Supplements to wages and salaries increased $6.5 billion.

      Personal outlays and saving

      Personal outlays, which includes PCE, personal interest payments, and personal current transfer payments, jumped $17.8 billion in October -- up $10.5 billion from September.

      Personal saving -- DPI less personal outlays -- was $761.9 billion in October, versus $722.9 billion in September. That pushed the personal saving rate -- personal saving as a percentage of disposable personal income -- up 0.3% from September to 5.6%.

      The complete report may be found on the BEA website.

      Jobless claims

      Something to be grateful for heading into the Thanksgiving holiday weekend: initial jobless claims were down sharply last week.

      The Department of Labor (DOL) reports first-time applications for state unemployment benefits were down by 12,000 in the week ending November 21 to a seasonally adjusted 260,000. The previous week's level was revised up by 1,000.

      The four-week moving average, which lacks the volatility of the weekly headcount and is considered a more accurate gauge of the labor market, was unchanged from the week before at 271,000 -- close to a 15-year low.

      The full jobless claims report is available on the DOL website.

      Your paycheck may have been a little fatter last month -- not a lot, but fatter nonetheless.According to the Bureau of Economic...
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      New home sales soar in October

      It was another good quarter for home prices

      While October may have been a disappointing month for sales of existing homes, it was a good one for sales of new single-family houses.

      A joint report from the Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development put sales at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 495,000 -- a surge of 10.7% above the September rate and a year-over-year gain of 4.9%.

      The median sales price of new houses sold last month was $281,500, while the average price was $366,000. The median is the point at which half the houses were priced higher and half were lower.

      The seasonally adjusted estimate of new houses for sale at the end of October was 226,000, which represents a supply of 5.5 months at the current sales rate.

      The full new home sales report is available on the Commerce Department website.

      Home prices

      Separately, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) says its House Price Index (HPI) shows house prices in the U.S. rose 1.3% in the third quarter -- the 17th consecutive quarterly price increase.

      The FHFA’s seasonally adjusted monthly index for September was up 0.8% from August. On a year-over-year basis, prices rose 5.7% from the third quarter of 2014.

      The HPI is calculated using home sales price information from mortgages sold to, or guaranteed by, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Video highlights of the HPI are something new this quarter and are available online. 

      “The factors that have contributed to extraordinary price growth over the last few years -- low interest rates, tight inventories, strong buyer confidence, and improving income growth -- continued to drive prices upward in much of the country” said FHFA Principal Economist Andrew Leventis. “However, as prices continue to rise, reduced affordability will be a stronger market headwind,” he added.

      Report highlights

      • Home prices rose in every state (except for West Virginia) and in the District of Columbia between the third quarter of 2014 and the third quarter of 2015. The top five areas in annual appreciation were the District of Columbia – 15.4%, Colorado – 12.7%, Nevada – 12.4%, Oregon – 10.0%, and Florida – 10.0%.
      • Among the 100 most populated metropolitan areas in the U.S., four-quarter price increases were greatest in North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton, Fla, where prices increased by 16.1%. Prices were weakest in El Paso, Texas, where they fell 3.6%.
      • Of the nine census divisions, the Mountain division experienced the strongest increase in the third quarter, posting a 2.4% quarterly increase and a 9.0% increase since the third quarter of last year. House price appreciation was weakest in the New England division, where prices rose 0.2% from the last quarter.

      The complete report is available on the FHFA website.

      While October may have been a disappointing month for sales of existing homes, it was a good one for sales of new single-fami...
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