Great year for U.S. domestic car sales

Despite pollution-spewing Volkswagens, exploding Takata air bags and failing GM ignition switches, domestic car sales for 2015 appear poised to be the best in U.S. history. Industry experts predict, based on year-to-date sales and projections for December, that the year's total sales will top 17.4 million vehicles, beating the previous high sales mark set in the year 2000. November's numbers were strong, continuing steady growth since midyear. Total passenger and light truck sales for the first 11 months of 2015 totaled more than 15 million units, up 5.5 percent from the first 11 months of 2014. Fiat Chrysler sales were up 3 percent for the month, while GM sales rose 1.5 percent. Ford overall sales were flat, but F-Series truck sales rose 10 percent. Nissan was up 3.8 percent, and Toyota climbed 3.4 percent. Niche nameplates Land Rover, Scion, Volvo and Alfa Romeo did even better, though their numbers were smaller.

Jobless benefits applications fall in Nov.

Fewer Americans than forecast filed applications for unemployment benefits last week, a sign of persistent strength in the labor market. Jobless claims fell by 11,000 to 271,000 in the week ended Dec. 12, a report from the Labor Department showed Thursday. The median forecast in a Bloomberg survey called for 275,000. Last week coincided with the period that the government surveys businesses and households to calculate payrolls and the jobless rate for December. Steady demand has encouraged employers hold the line on dismissals, keeping claims within a historically low range. Steady hiring and an unemployment rate that's at more than a seven-year low help explain why Federal Reserve policymakers on Wednesday raised their benchmark interest rate for the first time in almost a decade.

Puerto Rico's governor pushes Congress

Puerto Rico's governor pressured Congress on Thursday in a last-ditch effort to win debt relief for his territory before the end of the year, warning that the island is headed toward a "humanitarian crisis under the United States flag." Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla lobbied lawmakers to oppose a massive year-end spending bill that fails to include the debt restructuring that Puerto Rico is seeking. He said Congress must act soon and he was hoping negotiators would change the bill, a step Republican leadership has ruled out. Garcia, who said last week that he would not run for re-election, said he decided to stay in town after he heard that some Democrats were planning to vote against the bill because it didn't include the Puerto Rico provisions. Struggling Puerto Rico faces more than $900 million in bond payments in January, including a $357 million general obligation bond payment due Jan. 1. It would be the island's first major default if the payment is not made.

Wearable heart device cleared for children

Federal health officials have cleared a wearable heart-zapping device for children who are at risk of deadly irregular heartbeats. The LifeVest is intended for children who need round-the-clock heart monitoring but cannot receive an implantable device, due to health problems or parental objections. Defibrillators correct dangerous heart rhythms by jolting the heart with an electrical current. Most adults at risk of cardiac arrest have the lifesaving devices surgically implanted. External defibrillators are also used in emergencies, but they must be operated by a second person. LifeVest — which includes an electrode belt and a heart monitor— is already approved for adults. It is intended for patients who weigh at least 41 pounds. Food and Drug Administration officials said Thursday's approval would help doctors safely prescribe the device for children.

After four years, Apple names new COO

Apple named Jeff Williams as its chief operating officer Thursday, a job that hasn't been filled since Tim Cook left the position more than four years ago to become CEO. Williams has worked at Apple for about 17 years and supervised the launch of the Apple Watch, which went on sale earlier this year. The company said he played a "key role" in the launch of the iPhone. Apple also announced Thursday that it hired Tor Myhren from advertising company Grey Group to be vice president of marketing communications. He will start early next year and will oversee Apple's advertisements, websites and product packaging. At Grey, Myhren was chief creative officer and president of its New York office.

Boston raises minimum tobacco age to 21

Boston health officials voted Thursday to raise the minimum age for buying cigarettes and other tobacco products — including electronic cigarettes — from 18 to 21. Mayor Marty Walsh said the city now joins more than 85 other Massachusetts cities and towns — as well as New York City and Hawaii — in hiking the age for purchasing cigarettes. The Boston Board of Health also voted to increase the age for admission to adult-only retail tobacco stores and smoking bars to 21. The changes will also limit the sale of flavored tobacco and nicotine products, other than menthol, to adult-only retailers. The changes take effect Feb. 15.

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