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Economy Briefs: Grand Ole Opry owner sells brand to Marriott

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TENNESSEE

NASHVILLE — Grand Ole Opry owner Gaylord Entertainment has agreed to sell its hotel brand and the rights to manage its four hotels to Marriott for $210 million in cash.

The deal announced Thursday follows six months of reviewing options for its business. It will still own the four hotels it's letting Marriott manage. By handing over day-to-day control of the hotels to Marriott, Gaylord expects to save between $33 million and $40 million a year.

Nashville, Tenn.-based Gaylord then plans to reorganize as a real estate investment trust Jan. 1, in a move aimed at significantly lowering its tax bill. It will continue to own and operate the Grand Ole Opry, Ryman Auditorium (formerly the Grand Ole Opry House) and other attractions as taxable real estate investment trust subsidiaries.

The hotels Marriott will take over are the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Md., Gaylord Opryland in Nashville, Gaylord Palms in Orlando, Fla., and Gaylord Texan in Grapevine, Texas.

Marriott said the deal is part of its plan to expand its group travel and meetings business.

Marriott International Inc., based in Bethesda, has more than 3,700 properties in 73 countries and territories under 17 brands, including Marriott Hotels & Resorts, the Ritz-Carlton, Courtyard, Fairfield Inn & Suites and Residence Inn.

The deal is subject to certain conditions, including shareholders' approval of Gaylord becoming a real estate investment trust.

Gaylord shares climbed 6 percent on the news, adding $2.06 to reach $36.54 in morning trading after rising as high as $38.76 earlier in the day. Shares of Marriott lost 61 cents, or 1.6 percent.

LAWSUIT

SunTrust Mortgage settles fed complaint

SunTrust Mortgage Inc. has agreed to pay $21 million to settle a federal lawsuit alleging racial discrimination in its lending practices.

The consent order was filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Richmond, where the company has its headquarters. SunTrust Mortgage is a subsidiary of the nation's 11th-largest commercial bank.

The order says SunTrust Mortgage denies wrongdoing but agreed to the settlement to avoid costly litigation.

The U.S. Justice Department's complaint alleged that black and Hispanic borrowers were charged more for loans. The department says it reviewed more than 850,000 residential mortgage loans originated by the company from 2005 to 2009.

The settlement requires the lender to continue using policies it later adopted to prevent discrimination.

The agreement is subject to court approval.

BRAZIL

Benchmark interest rate cut to record low

BRASILIA — Brazil's Central Bank cut its base rate by half a point to a historic low of 8.5 percent Wednesday in a fresh bid to boost the country's sluggish economic growth, the bank said.

The cut, the seventh in the past 10 months, comes as the world's sixth-largest economy struggles to stave off contagion from the eurozone debt crisis.

The monetary policy board said that "at this time risks of inflationary pressures remain limited [amid] global economic sluggishness."

Last week, Finance Minister Guido Mantega told the Senate that the official growth forecast was being revised downward to 4 percent GDP from 4.5 percent despite the unveiling of a new stimulus package.

The eurozone debt crisis and signs of an economic slowdown in China, the largest customer for Brazilian commodities, are fueling doubts about the performance of Latin America's dominant power, which grew only 2.7 percent last year, down from a sizzling 7.5 percent in 2010.

Last August, the central bank reversed course following a series of rate hikes to clamp down on inflation and it has since brought down its base interest rate from 12.5 percent then to the current 9 percent.

MEXICO

Drug gang says snack attack was for spying

MORELIA — Banners signed by a cultlike Mexican drug gang say that cartel members launched firebombing attacks on a PepsiCo subsidiary because they believe the snack company let law-enforcement agents use its trucks for surveillance.

Five Sabritas warehouses and vehicle lots were attacked Friday and Saturday in the Mexican states of Michoacan and Guanajuato. Officials say four alleged members of the Knights Templar cartel have been detained in the case, which they link to extortion. At least 10 banners hung around the city of Apatzingan on Thursday accuse Sabritas of ferrying government agents.

The company denies that allegation, which was also circulated in emails before the attacks. Mexican drug cartels frequently earn money by demanding protection payments from small businesses. They previously had never systematically targeted a transnational firm with such attacks.

• From wire dispatches and staff reports

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