Economy Briefs: Weekly jobless aid applications drop to 343,000

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UNEMPLOYMENT

The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell sharply for a fourth straight week, a sign that the job market may be improving.

The Labor Department said Thursday that weekly applications for unemployment benefits fell 29,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 343,000, the lowest in two months. It is the second-lowest total this year.

Applications are a proxy for layoffs, so the drop indicates that companies are cutting fewer jobs. But employers also need to step up hiring to rapidly push down the unemployment rate.

TECHNOLOGY

Google Maps returns to iPhone with new mobile app

SAN FRANCISCO — Google Maps has found its way back to the iPhone.

The world’s most popular online mapping system returned late Wednesday with the release of the Google Maps iPhone app. The release comes nearly three months after Apple Inc. replaced Google Maps as the device’s built-in navigation system and inserted its own map software into the latest version of its mobile operating system.

Apple’s maps application proved to be far inferior to Google‘s, turning what was supposed to be a setback for Google into a vindication.

AUTO

GM gives its pickups a much-needed makeover

DETROIT — General Motors is giving its big pickups a much-needed makeover.

The company unveiled new versions of its top-selling Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra on Thursday, aiming to get them to showrooms by late spring or early summer.

The timing is good. The 2014 models roll into a market where truck sales are growing after a five-year slump. And GM’s current trucks are dated, hurting sales. Those trucks were last revamped in 2007, are the oldest on the market, and have fallen behind newer models from Ford and Chrysler.

NEW YORK

Sprint offers $2.1B for the rest of Clearwire

NEW YORK — Sprint Nextel has offered to buy out the minority shareholders of Clearwire for $2.1 billion in a deal that would give it total control of the flailing company and also more space on the airwaves for data services.

Sprint said in a regulatory filing Thursday that it’s offering $2.90 per share for the 49 percent of the wireless network operator that it doesn’t already own.

Clearwire’s board hasn’t approved the sale, but said it’s in discussions with Sprint. In midday trading, Clearwire shares had jumped 15 percent to $3.16, suggesting that investors believe a better offer may be coming.

• From wire dispatches and staff reports

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