NEW YORK - The number of planned layoffs at U.S. firms shrank in November to the lowest level in nearly two years, suggesting corporate labor force cuts are tapering off even if actual hiring appears a distant prospect.

Employers announced 50,349 planned job cuts in November, which is the fewest number of monthly job cuts since 44,416 in December 2007, according to the report on Wednesday by global outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

Most industries are seeing job cuts subside. Barring any unexpected shocks to the economy, we appear to be coming out of the woods when it comes to downsizing, said John Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

Unfortunately, the second half of the job-market equation -- hiring -- has shown no signs of an imminent rebound. At the moment, payrolls continue to experience net losses every month, a trend that is likely to repeat through the end of the year.

The November job cut total was 9.6 percent less than the 55,679 job cuts announced in October and marked the fourth consecutive decline in monthly layoffs.

November job cuts were down 72 percent from last November's 181,671 job cuts, the highest monthly total of 2008.

Last month's decline continues a sharp slowdown in the pace of job cutting in the second half of 2009.

Since July 1, employers have announced an average of 69,252 job cuts per month. In contrast, the average monthly job-cut total from January through June was 149,446.

(Reporting by Ellen Freilich, Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)