Investors worried about possible interest rate hike push Wall Street slightly lower

JaysonPhotography/iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- With investors worried about a potential interest rate hike, Wall Street took a small hit on Wednesday.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 16.67, closing the day at 25,369.13.

The Nasdaq lost 10.01, finishing the session at 7,153.57, while the S&P 500 dipped 2.19 to 1,557.91.

The cost of crude oil increased by nearly one percent on the day, a barrel now selling for $63.42.

According to the Federal Reserve, higher interest payments to banks was the main reason for a drop in payment to the government.

Toyota and Mazda announced plans to build a joint-venture automobile plant in Alabama. The factory will be built near Huntsville, and will employ 4,000 people. It is expected to produce 300 vehicles per year.

Berkshire Hathaway is promoting two of CEO Warren Buffett's potential successors to its board. Greg Abel and Ajit Jain will join the board, now at 14 members. Buffett is staying on for now.

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Toyota, Honda announce additional recalls related to Takata airbag inflators

welcomia/iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Two major automakers are expanding their vehicle recalls related to the faulty Takata airbags, according to announcements made on this week by Toyota and Honda.

Toyota added 601,300 additional vehicles in the United States to its safety recall on Tuesday. That came after the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration posted a notice from Takata on Sunday that said the company would recall more than three million additional airbag inflators.

Honda is recalling an additional 465,000 vehicles. A statement from Honda told customers that the company is "committed to addressing the needs and concerns of our customers with vehicles affected by this issue."

Takata's airbag inflators can explode with too much force and potentially hurl shrapnel into the vehicle. At least 20 people have died worldwide in crashes involving the affected inflators.

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YouTube removes Logan Paul from Google ad platform, original series MATEO, Calif.) -- YouTube has taken steps to discipline star Logan Paul after the disturbing video he posted last month, which included images of an alleged suicide victim in Japan.

Paul was removed from Google Preferred, a premier ad service that offers brand advertisers access to top YouTube producers. The company also said he will not be featured on season 4 of the original YouTube series "Foursome," and said "his new Originals are on hold." Paul had been set to star in the YouTube movie, "The Thinning: New World Order," a sequel to the company's 2016 release with Paul. The movie had begun filming in November 2017.

YouTube is owned by Google, and creators like Paul earn money through Google's advertising services.

On Tuesday, YouTube released a statement on its Twitter page indicating Paul would be penalized for sharing the inappropriate video with his 15 million subscribers. “The channel violated our community guidelines, we acted accordingly, and we are looking at further consequences,” the statement reads.

The company expressed that it was upset about the video, stating, “Suicide is not a joke, nor should it ever be a driving force for views.”

YouTube acknowledged that it had taken a long time to respond, but said they had been listening to everyone’s comments. The statement also indicated there may be changes in YouTube policies.

The release states, "We know that the actions of one creator can affect the entire community, so we’ll have more to share soon on steps we’re taking to ensure a video like this is never circulated again."

On Jan. 3, three days after posting the video, Paul announced on Twitter that he was stepping away from posting videos “for now,” and “taking time to reflect.”

A petition on that demanded his YouTube channel be deleted had over 450,000 signatures Thursday morning.

Paul received swift backlash after he posted a video Dec. 31 of him in Aokigahara, a forest near Mount Fuji, Japan, known colloquially as the "suicide forest," showing what appeared to be a body hanging from a tree.

The video was viewed 6 million times before being removed from Paul's YouTube channel.

Criticism followed despite two apologies by the star, one on Twitter and another by YouTube video.

In Paul's first apology, he said he had wanted to raise awareness about suicide, and denied he was being controversial in order to promote his social media content.

"I thought I could make a positive ripple on the internet, not cause a monsoon of negativity," he said in his Twitter post.

"I don't expect to be forgiven. I'm simply here to apologize," he said on the more somber video apology uploaded on YouTube and Twitter Jan. 2. "None of us knew how to react or how to feel."

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Taiwanese company unveils robot that plays Scrabble

ABC News(LAS VEGAS) -- One of the world’s most popular and mentally challenging board games may be getting even harder to play.

Taiwan’s largest high-tech applied research institution, The Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI), revealed on Monday a new companion robot that plays Scrabble with anyone willing to take on the challenge.

The Intelligent Vision System for Companion Robots, or ITRI, as the robot is known, integrates artificial intelligence, 3-D vision recognition and hand-eye coordination technologies to play scrabble and learn from the experience.

This companion robot can distinguish between various Scrabble cubes, words and their locations on the game board. It can even recognize individual words spelled by other players.

The robot can also grip, move and interact with the word blocks with extreme precision, placing the cubes in the correct cells without dropping or hitting the other cubes.

The game is played in traditional Scrabble form and is timed so that each player gets equal time to create a word. The companion robot can recognize the words and plays his word according to what was played by his opponent. Once the game is finished, players can view the gaming screen to see how they did.

The robot is a working prototype for now with no release date set, a company spokesperson told ABC News.

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Apple says it has 'always looked out for kids' after criticism

ABC News(CUPERTINO, Calif.) -- Apple has responded to two Apple investors, JANA Partners and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS), who wrote a open letter to the tech giant, urging it to offer parents more tools to fight against the negative effects of heavy cellphone usage.

"We think deeply about how our products are used and the impact they have on users and the people around them. We take this responsibility very seriously and we are committed to meeting and exceeding our customers’ expectations, especially when it comes to protecting kids," Apple said in a statement. "Apple has always looked out for kids."

In the letter, the groups ask Apple to establish an expert committee made up of childhood development specialists, hire an executive to monitor the situation, share information with researchers and provide resources for parents to protect children from the negative effects of digital technology.

JANA Partners is an investment firm based out of New York City, and CalSTRS is the largest educator-only pension fund in the world. Together they say they own approximately $2 billion worth of Apple shares.

"We have reviewed the evidence and we believe there is a clear need for Apple to offer parents more choices and tools to help them ensure that young consumers are using your products in an optimal manner,” the letter said.

Erin McNeill, president of Media Literacy Now, said the letter "contains good suggestions" but parents need to address the negative effects of media use by children.

"This is an all-hands-on-deck issue," McNeill added. "This affects all of us. ... Communications and tech companies do need to step up and take responsibility."

Apple said parental controls are already built into its operating system. "Effectively anything a child could download or access online can be easily blocked or restricted by a parent," the company said.

It also claimed it has a long history of curating and labeling content for parents and children.

The investor letter cited studies that found an increased risk of depression and suicide, sleep deprivation and a lack of ability to focus in the classroom because of electronic devices.

If Apple chooses to step up and "take part in the solution to the very big questions," said McNeill, it could be a turning point.

According to David Monahan, a campaign manager with the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, a nonprofit that advocates for children's protection from marketing, "These are vital issues in children's welfare that should be thought of now and not be an afterthought. If a parent decides they want the child to have a smartphone, but they don’t want the breadth of the internet for their child, we agree that Apple should take these steps [requested in the letter]."

If Apple added the requested measures, it could be good for its bottom line, the letter noted.

"Money talks," said Jim Steyer, CEO and founder of Common Sense Media. "This is the first time shareholders are speaking up about smartphone addiction."

And Apple isn't alone.

"Software manufacturers and social media platforms are even more squarely in the media crosshairs," said Steyer. "The tech industry needs to respond."

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Classified satellite fell into ocean after SpaceX launch, official confirms

SpaceX(NEW YORK) -- A highly classified satellite launched by SpaceX this weekend ended up plummeting into the Indian Ocean, a U.S. official confirmed to ABC News.

Following its launch from Florida's Cape Canaveral Sunday night, the satellite, codenamed Zuma, failed to remain in orbit, the official said.

Northrop Grumman, the defense contractor that manufactured the payload -- reportedly a billion-dollar spy satellite -- told ABC News its mission is classified and declined to comment on the loss of the satellite.

But SpaceX suggested that it was not at fault, telling ABC News its rocket, named Falcon 9, "did everything correctly."

"The data reviewed so far indicates that no design, operational, or other changes are needed," SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell said in a statement.

The mishap comes on the heels of a particularly productive year for the private space company founded by billionaire Elon Musk, who plans to launch Falcon Heavy, designed to carry humans into space, later this year.

The Zuma indent won't impact the schedule of SpaceX's upcoming launches, including the maiden flight of Falcon Heavy, the company said.

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US stocks close higher and S&P 500 keeps climbing

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- U.S. stocks closed higher on Tuesday as the S&P 500 hit its sixth straight day of gains.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average soared 102.80 (+0.41 percent), finishing the session at 25,385.80.

The Nasdaq climbed 6.19 (+0.09 percent) to close at 7,163.58, while the S&P 500 finished trading at 2,751.29, up 3.58 (+0.13 percent) for the day.

Crude oil prices were 2 percent higher at about $63 per barrel.

Winners and Losers:  Boeing (+2.67 percent) and Johnson & Johnson (+1.69 percent) led the Dow with gains on Tuesday.

Target had a strong holiday season with same-store sales jumping 3.4 percent in November and December. Shares climbed 2.90 percent after the retail chain boosted its fourth quarter sales to 3.4 percent.

Urban Outfitters sunk 4.06 percent after reporting holiday sales that fell below expectations, despite a 3.6 percent increase in net sales.

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Nissan wants to redefine the future of driving with its Brain-to-Vehicle technology 

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- It’s the latest in auto technology that is revolutionizing how people interact with their cars.

Japanese automaker Nissan unveiled new research Monday that will allow vehicles to interpret signals from the driver’s brain, promising to speed up reaction times for drivers.

“We care about the experience of the driver in the car,” Lucian Gheorghe, senior innovation researcher at the Nissan Research Center in Japan, told ABC News. “You’re still controlling, but you’re a much better controller of the car because of this system.”

“When most people think about autonomous driving, they have a very impersonal vision of the future, where humans relinquish control to the machines,” Nissan Executive Vice President Daniele Schillaci said in a statement. “Through Nissan Intelligent Mobility, we are moving people to a better world by delivering more autonomy, more electrification and more connectivity.”

The company’s Brain-to-Vehicle, or B2V technology, is the first of its kind, promising to predict a driver’s actions and detect discomfort. The driver wears a device that measures brain wave activity, which is then analyzed by the autonomous systems to help improve the driving experience.

Nissan said it hopes that the data from one’s brain will allow the system to anticipate intended movements such as turning the steering wheel or slowing the car at a rate of .2 -.5 seconds faster than the driver. By doing so, Nissan said, artificial intelligence like this can change the driving style when in autonomous mode, and help make the roads, not to mention making driving a more exciting experience overall.

Nissan said it's on track to deliver its autonomous vehicles by 2020, and is looking at technology like B2V that “will hopefully be a part of that.”

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Japanese budgeting hack to get your finances on track

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A few years ago, Marie Kondo’s organizational revolution centered on a simple Japanese tidying plan that took the world by storm, and now a similar Japanese method for organizing your finances is gaining steam.

Kakeibo -- pronounced Kah-kay-boh -- means household financial ledger in Japanese, and is a way to make big-picture saving goals while monitoring your spending on a daily basis. It’s based on a century-old financial concept that originated in Japan but has been resurrected by a newly published book titled Kakeibo: The Japanese Art of Saving Money.

The book is currently only available in English in the U.K., but the publisher told ABC News it’s releasing the book in the U.S. this fall.

Once the big-picture goals have been recorded, you go on to calculate your budget. It’s based on a concept financial planners dub the envelope system: You determine your monthly income and then either literally (with cash) or figuratively (in a written ledger) divide the income into envelopes.

These envelopes represent different categories of spending: the Kakeibo book suggests survival, optional, culture, extra, and saving. The "survival" envelope is for rent or mortgage, groceries, medical, utilities, and transportation. The next envelope, “optional” covers restaurants, take-out, and shopping for clothes. The third envelope, “culture,” is for music, cable subscriptions, movies, and books. Finally, “extra” is the envelope for any emergencies that come up plus things like gifts and repairs.

A final envelope, "saving," represents the money you specifically allocate to your cash-stashing goals.

Each month starts with a new allocation of money into the envelopes and then as you spend, money is withdrawn from each respective envelope until it’s all gone. Then, you wait for the next month to reallocate new income to your budget.

The book has daily entry lines like a diary for all your spending and income items so that thinking about your finances becomes a daily habit. Nudges in those day-to-day pages remind you of your big picture goals.

Stacey Tisdale, a behavioral finance expert and the author of The True Cost of Happiness: The Real Story Behind Managing Your Money, told ABC News that she likes the book's concept.

“We've learned that when we set goals, that really gives us the motivation to do things like stick to a spending plan,” Tisdale said.

She added that the power of journaling brings those goals back into our peripheral vision.

“We spend for lots of different reasons," Tisdale said. "What’s great about journaling is that you can start to really look at what’s really driving your financial behavior.”

For those seeking a more modern way of implementing this system, one option is an app called GoodBudget, which is based on a version of the envelope concept. With the GoodBudget app you can create as many of these envelope categories as you like and give them customized names that resonate with your lifestyle. Then you tie the app to your bank and credit card accounts and it populates your spending, income, and balances in real time.

The popular finance app Mint from Intuit also has its own budgeting tool that gives you many different category options and also pulls from your accounts in real time. Mint is more of a Swiss army knife of financial apps so the budget aspect isn’t front and center, like GoodBudget, but it does give you features like notifications and alerts to high spending that keep your budgeting goals top of mind.

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Treasure hunt: Ginger Zee searches for rare, expensive Italian white truffles

ABC News(ALBA, Italy) -- More than a hundred thousand dollars for a fungus? It’s true. Some of the rarest mushrooms in the world -- white truffles -- have seen eager bidders raising their offers well beyond six figures.

But why would someone would spend so much money on a kind of mushroom? Fans say the pungent aromas and unique flavors are worth the price.

The white truffle is so expensive because it is so rare and more reliant on weather than many other truffles. Unlike the black truffle, another renowned culinary fungus that can be commercially farmed, the white truffle can only be found in the wild -- in specific regions, at limited time of the year.

Alba, Italy, is one of the places white truffles are known to grow. At night, truffle hunters and their dogs comb both public and private lands in the area to find them.

Once they are picked, white truffles' journey from tree roots to sellers happens fast.

The shelf life of a freshly-harvested truffle is a week at the most, truffle experts say, and the largest market for the industry is the U.S. Many truffle get express airfare, so they usually arrive on American soil within 24 hours.

Urbani Tartufi is the world’s largest truffle distributor. The company says it controls 70 percent of the world’s truffle trade –- including approximately 700 different products like oils and sauces.

Owner Giammarco Urbani says 90 percent of white truffles are sold to the fresh market and only 10 percent are used in preserved products.

Truffle buyers are looking for the best quality, which means truffles that are large, fresh and pungent.

Urbani estimated that there are around 200,000 hunters looking for truffles in Italy. ABC News' trip to Alba in 2016 found that the weather conditions for truffle hunting have been far from perfect. Truffles need cool, wet weather to thrive.

“We have an extension of the summertime," truffle hunter Carlo Marenda said about the 2016 season. "We started to find the truffles just one month ago at the end of October. So we [lost] one month of the season."

Fourth-generation truffle hunter Gianni Monchiero said that the lack of mud in the wooded areas was not a good sign for a hearty Alba white truffle season; they need rainfall in the months before to flourish.

That shortened season translates to higher prices. According to Urbani Tartufi, the prices of truffles from 2016 to 2017 more than doubled. The value of white truffles surged, after the dry, hot summer, up to $3,000 per pound.

Another change to the environment that has also been challenging to truffle hunters: ivy. An invasive species of ivy in the forests has grown uncontrolled and made truffle hunting that much more difficult.

Together with Edmondo Bonelli, Marenda co-founded "Save The Truffle," which launched a crowdfunding campaign focused on educating people about the importance of keeping the forest clean.

“Because we agreed,” Bonelli said. “We can’t change the climate. We can change something about the environment so that the trees that produce truffles are not lost.”

“Save the Truffle” is working with business owners like Andrea Farinetti of Borgogno Winery to raise funds to help preserve and clean the forest, hoping to ensure the future of the white truffle.

"The idea is to maintain the biodiversity," Farinetti said. "In the white truffle exists many kind of truffles -- different in the bouquet, different in the taste, different in everything. This is major. This is the fortune of the truffle of Alba.”

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