US layoffs surge to 6-month high: Challenger

Monthly jobs cuts up 218%: Challenger
Monthly jobs cuts up 218%: Challenger

Layoffs surged in January to the highest levels since July as employers in the retail and energy sectors pulled out the pink slips, according to a private survey out Thursday.

U.S.-based companies announced 75,114 planned job cuts last month, up more than 200 percent from a 15-year low in December, according to global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. That figure was also 42 percent higher from a year ago.

Retailers were the biggest job cutter, despite a nearly 8 percent bump in U.S. holiday sales in 2015. The sector slashed 22,246 positions, a seven-year high.

Wal-Mart accounted for much of the payroll reductions. The nation's largest retailer said it plans to close 269 stores and expects to let go 16,000 workers.

Macy's said it will also shutter some locations this year, costing 4,820 employees their jobs.

Challenger, Gray & Christmas CEO John A.Challenger said the shift from in-store selling to online transactions is playing a major part in the scaling back of retail work forces.

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Macy's "had a 25 percent jump in their online sales, but their retail sales at bricks and mortars fell by 5 percent, so they are cutting stores," he told CNBC's "Squawk Box" on Thursday.

January delivered a fresh round of energy sector layoffs, as well. Announced payroll reductions of 20,246 marked the highest monthly total since the start of the oil price rout in mid-2014 that has sent crude prices spiraling about 70 percent and led to massive cost-cutting in the U.S. oil patch.

"Halliburton, Baker Hughes, Schlumberger — all the big oil producers of equipment — are continuing to cut jobs. That suggests that the big … oil and gas companies are cutting production and exploration," Challenger said.

The report was released a day before the Labor Department releases its jobs data for January. On Wednesday, ADP and Moody's Analytics reported that that job growth in the private sector slowed in January.

Challenger said the United States has not yet reached the point at which employers can no longer find skilled workers to expand their business, a condition that could contribute to a recession. However, he said that possibility is now visible on the horizon.