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The week’s top business stories


Santander downgraded by federal regulators

Illegal and deceptive marketing and lending practices, along with paltry investments in the communities it serves, earned Boston-based Santander Bank a rare downgrade from federal regulators on a key performance benchmark. The federal Office of the Comptroller of the Currency graded Santander as a bank that needs to improve how well it serves the communities where it has branches and takes deposits, including Boston, New York, and Pennsylvania. Santander, with $83 billion in assets, is one of the few large institutions to receive such a low grade from regulators under the Community Reinvestment Act, a law aimed at ensuring that banks don’t discriminate in lending. It also ensures that banks extend credit to low-and moderate-income neighborhoods, and engage in the cities and towns they serve. The bank, owned by Spanish financial titan Banco Santander SA, has been fined or sanctioned three times in the past two years by the US Department of Justice, the US Treasury Department, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Many of the violations were tied to the bank’s poor oversight of its vendors. Santander was also the only bank to fail the Federal Reserve’s stress test three times in a row because it lacked appropriate controls and procedures to handle a serious economic crisis. “This rating is disappointing,” Scott Powell, chief executive of Santander, said in a statement. Powell said many of the problems cited in the evaluation are old and the bank has been addressing the issues. The low grade reflected “prior regulatory actions,” Powell said. — DEIRDRE FERNANDES


GE chief prefers free, global trade

General Electric Co.’s chief executive, Jeff Immelt, shared a laugh last week with President Trump about an old golfing feat of the president’s. But the pair’s congenial encounter at the White House belies a big difference in how they approach international trade. While not mentioning Trump by name, the Boston-based chief executive delved into the issue in his annual letter to shareholders, released Monday. He pushed back, politely, at the protectionist views espoused by the new administration in Washington and elsewhere. “There is a strong trend toward nationalism all over the world. . . . Our preference is for multilateralism and free trade,” Immelt said. Immelt called GE a “proud American company that is winning in every corner of the world.” He said that in 2000, about 70 percent of its revenue came from the United States. Now, that number is under 40 percent. The vast majority of its aircraft engines and gas turbines, for example, are sold abroad. Today, GE exports more than $20 billion worth of goods a year. In the letter, Immelt complained about the fate of this country’s Export-Import Bank, a government agency that helps US manufacturers sell goods overseas. Trump doesn’t support the agency, whose board essentially has been hamstrung because of the lack of a quorum. — JON CHESTO



Fidelity offers buyouts to 3,000 employees

Fidelity Investments said Tuesday that a voluntary buyout offer will go out to 3,000 employees across the country, or 6.7 percent of its workforce. The Boston-based company did not say how many people it hopes will choose to leave. The multimillion-dollar program — which was first reported Monday — is aimed at employees age 55 or older who have been with Fidelity for at least 10 years. The offer covers people at all levels of the company, spokesman Vincent Loporchio said, and across its many business lines. Many workers could walk away with at least four weeks of severance pay for each year of service, and those with longer tenure could get as much as five or six weeks. In addition, Fidelity will allow people to stay on the company health care plan for 18 months at the cost they now pay as employees. There will also be a plan for people who need to extend health care beyond that period, Loporchio said. The buyout will not immediately cut costs, given the level of the benefits. — BETH HEALY



Citgo sign facing potentially huge rent increase

Like so many real estate disputes, this one involves a longtime tenant and a new landlord who wants to jack up the rent. But in this case, the tenant is the iconic Citgo sign — or, more precisely, the Venezuelan-owned oil company that leases the rooftop at 660 Beacon St., where the neon landmark sits. And the landlord is Related Beal, the New York developer that bought the building in October. The two are locked in a stalemate over how much Citgo Petroleum Corp. should pay to rent the perch for a sign that serves as a backdrop to Fenway Park and as a beacon as runners near the Boston Marathon’s finish line. Citgo’s lease is set to expire just days before the Red Sox home opener. The standoff is the latest chapter in a yearlong saga over the electronic billboard’s future. And it highlights the challenge of conducting private negotiations about a very public monument. Each side believes it is in the right, but neither wants to be responsible for taking down a beloved piece of the Boston skyline. Neither Citgo nor Related would comment on specific prices, citing their ongoing talks. But people familiar with the matter said Citgo pays about $250,000 a year, a below-market rate it reached years ago with Boston University, which sold 660 Beacon and eight nearby buildings to Related for $134 million. Related, these people said, initially proposed a figure as much as 10 times that, noting the site’s potential value on the open market. — TIM LOGAN



Liberty Mutual profits plunge on losses from car accidents

Boston-based Liberty Mutual saw its profits in the last three months of 2016 plummet on higher losses from car accidents, the insurance company reported Thursday. Liberty Mutual’s profits were down by 65 percent in the last quarter of the year, to $143 million from $411 million for the same period in 2015. Still, the insurer ended the year with more than $1 billion in profits, nearly double what it made in 2015, as a result of shedding its troubled Venezuelan operations. But for many insurance companies, auto accident claims are starting to squeeze profits. Distracted driving and more people on the highways in an improved economy are increasing the number of accidents, and pricier high-tech safety equipment in cars is making repairs more expensive when crashes occur, David Long, the chief executive of Liberty Mutual, said during an earnings call. The company estimates that a minor fender-bender for an entry-level luxury car in 2014 cost $1,850 in repairs, while a similar accident last year cost $3,550.



Tremont Crossing project clears important hurdle

A long-awaited megaproject in Roxbury cleared a key city hurdle Thursday night. The board of the Boston Planning & Development Agency approved Tremont Crossing, which would put 718 apartments, a large retail center, and a new Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists at the corner of Tremont and Whittier streets. At $500 million or more and 1.2 million square feet, it would be the largest project to launch in Roxbury during the current development boom and will enliven a stretch of Tremont that has long been eyed by the city for new construction. Indeed, planning for Tremont Crossing began in 2007, when Elma Lewis Partners won the right to develop the city-owned site, with plans for a new museum there. At one point it was also seen as an office destination, with then-mayor Thomas M. Menino trying to lure Partners Healthcare to the site and then-governor Deval Patrick vowing to move the headquarters of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation there. — TIM LOGAN