Monday, June 01, 2009

Rate of Layoffs at Big Companies Slowed

The Forbes Layoff Tracker finished its quietest week last Friday since it started tracking layoffs at the country’s 500 largest companies in November 2008. The Tracker recorded 650 layoffs – all at business supplies manufacturer Cintas -- for the workweek ending May 29; by comparison, for the previous workweek, five companies, including American Express and Hewlett-Packard, announced more than 12,300 layoffs. The news followed the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics report, which found that the number of first-time unemployment claims dropped in April compared to the previous month. So did the number of mass layoffs, defined as those involving at least 50 people.

Is the economy getting ready to start a long, slow rebound, as a number of experts have suggested recently?

On the other hand, the same Labor Department report found that the unemployment rate rose from 8.5 percent in March to 8.9 percent in April, while 12 of 19 major industries reported all-time highs in terms of average weekly first-time unemployment claims in April. The industries included finance and professional services.

Still, the president of one major executive recruiting firm found some upbeat notes in the most recent data and says his firm has received a number of assignments, especially at the board and CEO level. “We’re gradually approaching some sort of change, and consumer demand seems to be saying the same thing,” said Chris Clarke of Hawthorne, N.Y.-based Boyden Global Executive Search. “The good news is we think we’re past the bottom.”

Moreover, Clarke added that a number of companies are still seeking talented CFOs and other finance executives. “Finance is one of the toughest functions right now,” he said. “These are the people who have to sort out the messes. Those good at it are much in demand.”

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