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Layoffs Are Cooling Down, At Least For Now

April 9, 2009

Last week, the Forbes.com Layoff Tracker counted a mere 6,000 layoffs announced at the 500 largest U.S.-based public companies, a far cry from the 20,000 to 90,000 in previous weeks. Maybe it's time for some cautious optimism.

Companies are still unloading thousands of employees. Many of the layoffs already announced won't be completed until months or even years from now. But it's still cheering news when the layoff storm lets up, even a little.

The layoffs represented on the Layoff Tracker, nearly half a million since Nov. 1, account for about 2.1% of the jobs at the 500 largest U.S. based public companies. In some cases--like Microsoft (nasdaq: MSFT - news - people ) or Best Buy (nyse: BBY - news - people )--companies are hiring in some areas as they trim jobs in others. But it's not easy to feel optimistic if your company is one that has announced impending cuts. Avon said it would eliminate 3,000 jobs over the next four years--you can't help but worry when the ax could be hanging over your head that long.

Still, there are positive signs. The Layoff Tracker counted 90,000 layoffs announced in November 2008, 108,000 in December, and 163,000 in January . February saw a pullback to 125,000--of which 47,000 were at GM alone, part of the automaker's viability proposal to the government as it seeks billions in aid.

The numbers show many companies got layoffs out of the way when the time was right. Most do annual bookkeeping at year's end, and this year, that forced them to realize they had to take immediate action. Thus, a lot of bad-news quarterly results were accompanied by layoff announcements. Along with the businesses on the accompanying table, Black & Decker (nyse: BDK - news - people ), Harley-Davidson (nyse: HOG - news - people ), Allergan (nyse: AGN - news - people ), and Agilent Technologies (nyse: A - news - people ) all announced layoffs (or buyouts, early retirement deals and the like) with their quarterly reports.

Companies That Announced Job Cuts With Their Latest Quarterly Earnings Reports

Date

Company

Total Job Cuts

Sector

Percentage Annual Revenue Growth

Percentage Annual EPS Growth

1/21/2009

Burlington Northern Santa Fe (nyse: BNI - news - people )

2,500

Transportation

14%

19.7%

1/22/2009

Microsoft (nasdaq: MSFT - news - people )

5,000

Software

7.1

6.1

1/26/2009

Caterpillar (nyse: CAT - news - people )

20,000

Capital goods

14.2

5.3

1/28/2009

Starbucks (nasdaq: SBUX - news - people )

6,700

Restaurants

4.1

-73.9

1/29/2009

Eastman Kodak (nyse: EK - news - people )

4,500

Household

-8.6

P-D

2/4/2009

Cisco Systems (nasdaq: CSCO - news - people )

2,000

Technology

5.0

-2.9

2/4/2009

Time Warner (nyse: TWX - news - people )

1,250

Media

1.1

P-D

2/5/2009

Estée Lauder (nyse: EL - news - people )

2,000

Personal products

4.9

-5.2

2/11/2009

Terex (nyse: TEX - news - people )

5,000

Capital goods

8.2

-93.0

2/18/2009

Goodyear Tire & Rubber (nyse: GT - news - people )

5,000

Consumer durables

-0.8

P-D

EPS: Earnings per share.
P-D: Profit to deficit.
Source: Reuters Fundamentals via FactSet Research Systems.

Klaus Kneale, Forbes.com