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TALKING POINTS

Hotel chain grows by more than 900 properties

HOTELS

Sonesta buys Denver-based hotel chain

In a year of limited travel because of the pandemic, a local hotel company is rapidly expanding its footprint in the United States. Newton-based Sonesta International Hotels Corp. announced Wednesday it has agreed to acquire Denver-based RLH Corp., the 10th-largest hotel franchise company in the country, taking control of more than 900 hotels. The all-cash deal is valued at about $90 million, according to a press release from RLH. It’s the latest acquisition for Sonesta, which has been picking up new properties all year. Sonesta used to be a family-owned business started by a Boston realtor and financier in the 1940s, but it was acquired for nearly $175 million in 2012 by a real estate investment trust with a subsidiary in Newton. — ANISSA GARDIZY

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ENERGY

Opponents of hydropower project ask court to delay construction

Opponents of a 145-mile electricity transmission corridor aimed at bringing Canadian hydropower to the New England grid are asking a federal appeals court to delay construction set to begin in January. Denied a preliminary injunction by a federal judge last week in Maine, three conservation groups filed the new request late Wednesday with the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston. They contend the federal judge’s ruling was too narrow and overlooked potential environmental harms. They asked for a ruling by Jan. 15. Thorn Dickinson, CEO and president of project developer NECEC LLC., called the 11th-hour legal maneuver a “desperate effort” and said workers intend to break ground “in the coming weeks.” The Sierra Club, Appalachian Mountain Club, and Natural Resources Council want the Army Corps of Engineers, which approved the project, to conduct a more rigorous environmental impact statement instead of the less-stringent environmental assessment. The $1 billion New England Clean Energy Connect would provide a conduit for up to 1,200 megawatts of Canadian hydropower to reach the New England power grid. Much of the project would follow existing utility corridors but a new swath would be cut through 53 miles of wilderness. Supporters say the project would reduce greenhouse emissions and stabilize energy costs in the region. Critics say that the benefits are overstated and that the project would destroy unspoiled wilderness. — ASSOCIATED PRESS

AUTOMOTIVE

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Daimler to pay $30 million fine over sluggish recalls

Daimler Trucks North America agreed Thursday to pay a $30 million civil penalty to settle claims that the German automaker failed to recall vehicles in a timely fashion and comply with federal reporting requirements. Under the settlement, Daimler Trucks will be required to “develop and implement an advanced data analytics program to enhance its ability to detect and to investigate potential safety defects,” the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said. The company will also be required to “improve its IT systems to collect potential safety information from its business units more effectively, and to report that information accurately to NHTSA,” according to the agency. The consent order stems from an investigation NHTSA opened in 2018 that covers Daimler Truck’s handling of seven recalls. — BLOOMBERG NEWS

PRECIOUS METALS

Gold closes out a banner year

Gold is set for the biggest annual advance in a decade after a tumultuous year, with gains this month aided by the dollar’s decline to the lowest level since April 2018. Bullion hit a record in August as investors feared an unprecedented wave of stimulus by central banks and governments would lead to currency debasement and inflation. Holdings in bullion-backed exchange-traded funds set an all-time high in October. While prices ebbed as the rollout of vaccines injected optimism into financial markets, the dollar’s continued weakness has helped support gold into the year-end. — BLOOMBERG NEWS

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CRYPTOCURRENCY

Bitcoin ends 2020 at record heights

Bitcoin vaulted above $29,000 to reach yet another record level on the last day of 2020, in a fitting end to a groundbreaking year for the world’s largest digital currency. It has advanced almost 50 percent in December, on track for its biggest monthly gain since May 2019. Bitcoin has now quadrupled in value this year amid the global coronavirus pandemic, while the wider Bloomberg Galaxy Crypto Index tracking the largest digital currencies is up about 280 percent as rival coins such as Ether have also rallied. — BLOOMBERG NEWS

INTERNATIONAL

US to ban palm oil shipments over forced labor

The US said it will ban all shipments of palm oil from one of the world’s biggest producers after finding indicators of forced labor and other abuses on plantations that feed into the supply chains of some of America’s most famous food and cosmetic companies. The order against Malaysian-owned Sime Darby Plantation Berhad and its local subsidiaries, joint ventures, and affiliates followed an intensive monthslong investigation by the US Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Trade, said Ana Hinojosa, one of the agency’s executive directors. The order was announced just three months after the federal government slapped the same ban on another Malaysian palm oil giant, FGV Holdings Berhad — the first palm oil company ever targeted by US Customs over concerns about forced labor. — BLOOMBERG NEWS

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COMMODITIES

Sugar notches biggest gains in four years

Sugar headed for the highest annual gain in four years as demand improves and global supply tightens. Key buyers Indonesia and China are ramping up imports of sugar at a time when the market also is contending with a lower crop outlook in Thailand and dry weather concerns in top shipper Brazil. Markets also will keep an eye on domestic ethanol demand in Brazil, a key factor in determining the nation’s sugar production next year. — BLOOMBERG NEWS

CONSUMERS

Americans more pessimistic about economy, virus resurgence

A gauge of US consumer sentiment dropped last week to a four-month low as Americans grew more pessimistic about the state of the national economy and the resurgence of COVID-19 cases. The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index fell 2.4 points in the week that included Christmas to 44.6, the lowest since the period ended Aug. 23, data released Thursday showed. The sentiment measure is now only a third of the way back from its pre-pandemic level. — BLOOMBERG NEWS

HOUSING

Affordability the lowest in 12 years

Record-low mortgage rates were supposed to make it easier for home buyers. Instead, they’ve helped push affordability to a 12-year low. Buyers in the fourth quarter needed to spend almost 30 percent of the average wage to afford a typical house, the biggest share for any three-month period since 2008, according to preliminary figures from Attom Data Solutions. Low borrowing costs, now below 3 percent for a 30-year loan, have spurred a buying frenzy, driving up prices across the country as shoppers compete for a shrinking supply of listings. — BLOOMBERG NEWS

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MORTGAGES

Rates edge up slightly

MCLEAN, Va. — Long-term mortgage rates ticked up slightly this week but remain near record lows as the coronavirus pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the US and global economies. The average rate on the benchmark 30-year fixed-rate home loan rose to 2.67 percent from a record-low 2.66 percent last week, according to mortgage giant Freddie Mac on Thursday. A year ago, it stood at 3.72 percent. The average rate on 15-year fixed-rate loans, popular among homeowners seeking to refinance their mortgages, dipped to 2.17 percent from 2.19 percent last week. A year ago it averaged 3.16 percent. — ASSOCIATED PRESS