NEW YORK (Reuters) - Planned layoffs at U.S. firms fell in December for the first time in four months, while the overall job-cut total in 2012 was the lowest since 1997, a report showed on Thursday.
Employers announced 32,556 job cuts last month, the second lowest monthly total of 2012 and down 43 percent from 57,081 in November, according to the report from consultants Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. In 2012, the only month with a lower job-cuts tally was August, with 32,239.
December's job cuts were also down 22 percent from the 41,785 seen a year ago.
During 2012, employers announced 523,362 cuts, down 14 percent from the 606,082 job cuts announced in 2011 and the lowest level since 1997 when employers announced 434,350 cuts.
"We saw a few spikes in monthly job cuts in 2012 and there were some significant mass layoffs that definitely reminded us that not every industry is enjoying the fruits of recovery. However, the overall pace of downsizing was at its slowest since the end of the recession," said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas.
"In fact, we have not seen this level of job cutting since before the dot-com collapse and subsequent 2001 recession," Challenger said in a statement.
One of the significant mass layoffs of last year was made in December by Citigroup Inc <C.N>, which announced 11,000 job cuts early in the month. The bank accounted for the majority of the 11,355 job cuts announced last month in the financial sector, which was the top job-cutting sector in December.
The leading job-cut sector of 2012 was the computer industry, which announced 46,164 layoffs last year, up 215 percent from 14,677 job cuts in the computer industry in 2011.
The most dramatic decline in job cuts came in the government sector, which announced 19,128 layoffs in 2012, down 90 percent from 183,064 announced job cuts in 2011.
However, the fall in job cuts in December may not carry over into early 2013.
"Historically, January is, on average, the biggest job-cut month of the year, and several sectors, including computer, financial services, consumer products, transportation and aerospace and defense are at risk due to a high potential for reduced spending by consumers, businesses and government in 2013," Challenger said.
The report comes a day ahead of the key jobs report, which is forecast to show 150,000 new U.S. jobs were added in December, up slightly from 146,000 new jobs in November.
(Reporting by Chris Reese; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)