BlackBerry Layoffs and a Week of Firings Elsewhere Stand as Warning

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Maybe it just feels like it (or looks like it), but the upcoming layoff of 4,500 people at BlackBerry Ltd. (NASDAQ: BBRY) had some company this past week. A number of other firms across several industries cut staff, or will. The economy’s new normal has been very modest job additions, or at least no change in workforce size. The past few days of layoffs may only be a bump in the road. It is at least worth considering otherwise.

Big banks have started to sack people by the thousands. The mortgage business has been weak, likely as interest rates have risen. Those rates have flattened now, thanks to Ben Bernanke. But he will be gone soon. And some institutional banks have been hurt as well on low deal flow, and probably slow bond trading. Wells Fargo & Co. (NYSE: WFC) and Bank of America Corp. (NYSE: BAC) will let people go.

Word made it out of Chesapeake Energy Corp. (NYSE: CHK) that it will begin to make cuts. New CEO Doug Lawler has begun to clean up after the massive mess left by founder Aubrey Kerr McClendon, who himself made off with hundreds of millions of dollars. Lawler likely has no option.

Among other companies too large to ignore when going through “work force adjustments” was HTC, a smartphone company that has fallen into the third tier of the industry along with BlackBerry. Boeing Co. (NYSE: BA), which has been considered an America success story (leaving aside trouble with its Dreamliner), cut people. American Airlines also has started cuts. Its merger with U.S. Airways Group Inc. (NYSE: LCC) may be in difficulties. However, management could be willing to gamble that the deal eventually will be cleared by the government.

Cuts of any kind are unsettling, mostly to the people who are cut, but also to onlookers. It stirs up memories of a time that is barely five years old, and it makes the population wonder what is coincidence and what is trouble.

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