Planned layoffs rose for second month in a row in February: Challenger

Planned layoffs at companies rose for the second month in a row in February as the financial sector cut the most employees in over a year, a report showed on Thursday.

Employers announced 55,356 planned job cuts last month, up nearly 37 percent from 40,430 in January, according to the report from consultants Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

February's job cuts were 7 percent higher than the 51,728 job cuts announced the year before. For 2013 so far, employers have announced 95,786 layoffs, down 9 percent from the first two months of 2012.

The financial sector dominated cuts last month, with firms announcing 21,724 layoffs, the most since September 2011. That was nearly three times the amount of job losses announced in January.

Although there have yet to be any job cuts related to the $85 billion in government spending cuts known as the sequester, sectors including aerospace, defense, government and education are likely to see increased layoffs, said John Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

Also at risk are companies where the government is a major customer, such as technology, construction and transportation firms, Challenger said.

The report comes a day ahead of the key U.S. jobs report, which is forecast to show the economy added 160,000 jobs in February, while the unemployment rate held at 7.9 percent.

(Reporting by Leah Schnurr; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)