width=326NEW YORK - The rate of job losses at U.S. private employers slowed in December, while planned layoffs at companies fell to the lowest in two years during the month, according to two reports released on Wednesday.

The private sector lost 84,000 jobs in December, which was fewer than the 145,000 jobs lost in November, according to ADP Employment Services. The number of jobs lost did however exceed the 73,000 expected by economists.

The number did little to change expectations for Friday's U.S. Labor Department non-farm payrolls data for December. Economists forecast the U.S. lost 8,000 jobs overall last month, fewer than the 11,000 lost in November.

ADP was a touch weaker (than expected), but it still shows continued improvement in terms of the number of job losses. The market won't pay much attention to it since it hasn't been very accurate in terms of predicting the monthly employment number, said Peter Boockvar, equity strategist at Miller Tabak & Co in New York.

U.S. stock futures held their losses after the release of the ADP data, while U.S. Treasuries trimmed losses slightly.

Separately, employers announced 45,094 planned job cuts last month, the fewest since December 2007, according to global outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

That marked a 73 percent decline from 12 months ago, when 166,348 job cuts were reported, the report showed.

Last year marked the worst year of corporate job cuts since 2002, with employers announcing plans to cut 1,288,030 jobs. The pace of layoffs fell by 56 percent in the second half of the year however.

Another report showed demand for U.S. mortgages held last week near six-month lows as the highest long-term borrowing costs since August stifled refinancing, a Mortgage Bankers Association survey showed.

Average 30-year mortgage rates jumped 0.10 percentage point to 5.18 percent in the January 1 week, up more than a half percentage point from the record low in March, driving down refinance requests to levels last seen in early August. The rate was last higher in late August at 5.24 percent.

Total mortgage applications eked out a 0.5 percent rise in the January 1 week after slumping nearly 23 percent in the Christmas week to the lowest level since late June.

(Additional reporting by Ryan Vlastelic )