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Sovereign Bancorp Inc., a major regional savings and loan company agreed to sell a 20 percent stake to Banco Santander Central Hispano of Spain for $2.4 billion, the companies announced late Monday. Philadelphia-based Sovereign said it will use the proceeds to expand into the New York market by buying Independence Community Bank Corp. of Brooklyn. But terms of the sale to Santander also give the latter the right to acquire the remaining 80 percent of Sovereign within a three-year window. Sovereign operates more than 650 branches from Maryland to New Hampshire and has assets of $63 billion. Santander is Spain's largest bank.

LM Ericsson, the world's largest maker of cellphone network equipment, will pay $2.1 billion for much of struggling British rival Marconi Corp., the companies announced. The deal will result in as many as 1,000 layoffs at Marconi, Ericsson's chief executive said, although it first must win the OK of European Union competition regulators. Ericsson is based in Stockholm.

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A buyout group that made the first offer to acquire prime assets of bankrupt broker Refco Inc. followed through on its threat to withdraw after a federal court lowered the breakup fee it would have been paid from $20 million to $5 million. An attorney for J.C. Flowers & Co. said it and its partners already had spent "far more than that" on their bid. But as the group dropped out of the bidding, Merrill Lynch & Co. announced an offer of unspecified size for Refco's futures business and four other potential buyers identified themselves.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. announced plans to open at least 555 more outlets worldwide, plus five regional distribution centers for foodstuffs or general merchandise, by the end of its fiscal year.

Japan Airlines has asked to join the OneWorld alliance with American, British Airways, and seven other carriers "as soon as possible," its chief executive said. JAL, Asia's largest, has code-sharing arrangements with other airlines but until now has preferred to remain outside a more formal tie-up. Among other privileges, joining OneWorld would allow JAL's passengers to connect more easily to flights operated by others in the alliance, to order tickets on partner airlines through the Internet, and to use their airport lounges.


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