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BUSINESS BRIEFLY

Buyout of NewAlliance clears another hurdle

The Federal Reserve Board approved First Niagara Financial Group's planned purchase of NewAlliance Bancshares of New Haven, Conn., clearing another major hurdle in the $1.5 billion deal.

The deal, which has already been approved by NewAlliance shareholders, now awaits decisions by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which regulates national banks, and the Connecticut Department of Banking, which oversees New-Alliance.

Politicians and other community leaders in Connecticut, led by New Haven's mayor, have vociferously opposed the transaction.

First Niagara agreed to buy NewAlliance in a cash-and-stock deal that will give it 88 branches in Connecticut and Massachusetts, and a strong foothold from which to grow in New England. That comes on top of two deals in two years that gave it 57 branches in western Pennsylvania and 83 branches in the Philadelphia region.

In all, First Niagara will have nearly $30 billion in assets, $18 billion in deposits and 340 branches in four states after the NewAlliance deal closes.

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A sign of fewer layoffs

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Fewer people applied for unemployment benefits last week, a sign that layoffs are dropping and companies may be stepping up hiring.

The Labor Department said Thursday that the number of people seeking benefits dipped by 6,000 to a seasonally adjusted 388,000 for the week that ended March 26. That's the second decline in three weeks.

Applications near 375,000 or below are consistent with a sustained increase in hiring.

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Ally Financial eyes IPO

NEW YORK (AP) -- The former finance arm of General Motors said Thursday it is preparing an initial public offering as it seeks to repay billions in government aid received during the financial crisis.

Ally Financial Inc. said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that the IPO could raise up to $100 million, but the actual offering will likely be larger. The preliminary estimate of proceeds often changes closer to the IPO date as the offering is pitched to investors.

GM itself is an example of the possible change in amount: When it announced plans to go public to pay money back to the government after being bailed out, it also said it would sell up to $100 million worth of common stock in its initial filing. The IPO in November raised $23.1 billion.

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