February planned layoffs highest in 11 months: Challenger

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The number of planned layoffs at U.S. firms rose in February to its highest level in 11 months as government and non-profit employers let workers go, a report showed on Wednesday.

Employers announced 50,702 planned job cuts last month, the highest level since March 2010 and a jump of 32 percent from January's 38,519, according to the report from consultants Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. Layoffs were 20 percent higher than the 42,090 announced in February of last year, marking the first year-over-year increase since May 2009.

Even so, the report said the pace of job cutting remains relatively subdued. Job cuts for January and February stand at 89,211, well below the 113,572 job cuts that were announced in the first two months of 2010.

"It is too soon to say whether the increases in January and now February represent a trend," John Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, said in a statement.

Challenger said worries over rising gas prices could impact staffing decisions over the next six months.

"At the very least, rising energy costs could force employers to postpone hiring plans. At worse, increased costs could kill the fragile recovery and spur another round of layoffs," Challenger said.

The government and non-profit sector led layoffs with 16,380 job cuts, up 154 percent from January. Retail followed with a 44 percent increase in planned cuts to 8,360.