Employers cut fewer jobs in February: Challenger

February job cuts top 50,000: Challenger
February job cuts top 50,000: Challenger

Employers cut fewer jobs in February than in January, but total layoffs remained high compared to a year ago as the energy sector continued to slash positions, according to the monthly report from Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

U.S.-based employers announced they would let go a total of 50,579 workers in February, marking the third-straight month they laid off more employees than the same period last year, the outplacement firm said.

Energy companies accounted for the most workplace reductions. More than 16,000 workers lost their jobs as oil prices remained low. The cost of a barrel of crude fell 60 percent between June and January before stabilizing last month.

"Usually what you have in times of strength is you have most of the job cuts coming from mergers and acquisitions, and you just don't need two headquarters," Challenger CEO John Challenger told CNBC. "But right now we're seeing in the midst of this expansion one sector really is going through the change, and that's energy."

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The energy patch accounts for 38 percent of all jobs cuts for the first two months of the year, Challenger said in a "Squawk Box" interview.

The number of planned layoffs by U.S. employers rose to a nearly two-year high in January with employers planning to let go 53,041 jobs.

The second-highest workforce reduction in February came from the retail industry. Retailers cut 15,862 jobs, in line with layoffs at this time last year.

The prevailing sentiment is that lower oil prices will offset weakness in the energy market as consumers spend money saved at the pump in the broader economy.

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Challenger told CNBC that scenario has not played out yet, but he said he believes consumers will start shopping once the weather breaks and they have more money in their pockets.

Radioshack's announcement that it is entering bankruptcy and closing or selling nearly 4,000 stores also contributed to retail layoffs, he said.

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