U.S. job cuts over Jan-Feb hit highest since 2009 - report

March 9 (Reuters) - Layoffs by U.S. companies over January and February touched the highest since 2009, with the tech sector accounting for more than a third of the over 180,000 job cuts announced, a report showed on Thursday.

In February alone, layoffs in the United States stood at 77,770, more than five times higher than the 15,245 job cuts announced a year earlier, according to the report from employment firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc.

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The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits rose 21,000 in the week ended March 4, the Labor Department said - the biggest increase in five months.

"Right now, the overwhelming bulk of cuts are occurring in Technology. Retail and Financial are also cutting right now, as consumer spending matches economic conditions," said Andrew Challenger, senior vice president of Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc.

Tech companies from Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) and Google-parent Alphabet Inc (GOOGL.O) to PayPal Holdings (PYPL.O) have cut thousands of jobs this year in an effort to curb spending and protect margins amid an uncertain economic outlook.

"The layoffs that many of these companies are announcing are welcome to investors, sort of right-sizing the cost structure, rationalizing growth is being rewarded in the marketplace," said James Tierney, chief investment officer at asset management firm Alliance Bernstein.

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Shares of Alphabet, Microsoft, Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O) and Meta Platforms Inc (META.O) have gained between 6% and 54% so far this year, after falling between 29% and 64% in 2022.

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell on Wednesday reaffirmed his message of higher and potentially faster interest rate hikes, which could force companies to slash more jobs.

U.S. firms announced plans to hire 28,830 workers in February, down 87% from 215,127 a year earlier, the report added.

Reporting by Akash Sriram in Bengaluru; Editing by Devika Syamnath

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Akash reports on technology companies in the United States, electric vehicle companies, and the space industry. His reporting usually appears in the Autos & Transportation and Technology sections. He has a postgraduate degree in Conflict, Development, and Security from the University of Leeds. Akash's interests include music, football (soccer), and Formula 1.