Planned layoffs rise in January, so do hiring plans: Challenger

The number of planned layoffs at U.S. firms rose in the first month of the year, but that was more than offset by an increase in plans to hire, a report showed on Thursday.

Employers announced 40,430 job cuts this month, up 24.2 percent from 32,556 in December, according to the report from consultants Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

But January's job cuts were down almost the same amount from the same time a year ago, declining 24.4 percent from 53,486 in January 2011. It was the third lowest number of January lay-offs recorded by Challenger going back to 1993.

"The relatively low job-cut totals we have seen for the last couple of months indicate that employers do not foresee a prolonged decline in economic activity," John Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, said in a statement.

The financial and retail sectors lost the most workers. Financial firms cut 8,578 workers, while retail companies dropped 6,676 jobs.

But at the same time, the retail industry announced plans to hire 54,000 employees. Overall hiring announcements climbed to 60,585 from 16,266 in December. Such announced plans account for only a small fraction of actual hiring in the economy, the survey said.

The report comes a day ahead of the key U.S. jobs report, which is forecast to show hiring held steady in January, pointing to modest growth.

(Reporting by Leah Schnurr; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)