NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ 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 struggling 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. Clearwire shares jumped 15 percent to $3.16, suggesting that investors believe a better offer may be coming.

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Weekly US jobless aid applications drop to 343,000

WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ 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.

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By The Associated Press(equals)

The Dow Jones industrial average finished down 74.73 points, or 0.6 percent, to 13,170.72. The Nasdaq composite index dropped 21.65 points to 2,992.16. The Standard & Poor's 500 index dropped 9.03 points, or 0.6 percent, to 1,419.45.

Benchmark crude lost 88 cents to end at $85.89 per barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international varieties of oil, finished down $1.56 at $106.46 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

Heating oil fell 2 cents to end at $2.94 a gallon. Natural gas lost 4 cents to finish at $3.35 per 1,000 cubic feet. Wholesale gasoline fell 4 cents to end at $2.60 a gallon.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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