Announced job cuts at mortgage lenders and in the financial sector continued to decline in November from August peaks, but the ultimate impact of the housing slump on workforce levels may be delayed for months.

That’s according to Chicago-based outplacement consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., which tallied 5,528 announced layoffs at mortgage lending institutions in November. That’s down from a peak of 30,892 announced layoffs in August.

The total number of announced job cuts in mortgage lending for the year-to-date, 81,681, is more than six times the total for all of last year, 12,874.

There have been 147,395 announced layoffs in the financial sector through November, compared to roughly 50,000 in each of the two previous years.

“We probably have not seen the last of financial job cuts tied to the housing slump and subsequent collapse in the credit markets,” said the firm’s chief executive officer, John Challenger, in a statement. “In fact, many analysts are waiting for a major announcement from Citigroup in the coming weeks that some say could impact as many as 45,000 jobs.”

Challenger Gray tracks only publicly announced layoffs, so actual job losses may be greater. But the numbers compiled by the firm provide an indication of industry trends, which may take longer to show up in government statistics.

In real estate — where many layoffs are not publicly disclosed — 3,275 layoffs have been announced for the year to date, Challenger reported.

The firm put the number of announced layoffs in housing — including the construction, real estate and financial sectors — at 119,972 through November. That’s a more than five-fold increase from the 22,814 tallied in 2006. Announced layoffs in the combined category totaled 10,537 in November, down from 31,746 in August, the peak for the year.

“It could be several months before we truly know the ultimate result of the housing slump and the credit upheaval on workforce levels,” Challenger said. “It is not unusual to see a spike in year-end job cutting as companies try to meet earnings goals and make payroll adjustments in light of next year’s budget, so a December increase in job cuts is a significant possibility.”

Challenger said a better picture of how consumers and employers are responding to the housing slump and credit crisis should emerge by the middle of next year.

So far, the layoffs in the financial sector haven’t been reflected in the ranks of top management. While there have been a handful of high-profile departures, including the ouster of Merrill Lynch CEO Stan O’Neal, “the overall impact on the CEO suite has been subdued,” Challenger said

So far this year 124 chief executive officers at financial sector companies have been fired, resigned, or departed for other reasons. But the turnover at the top level has been higher in the health care, computer and non-profit sectors.

According to Challenger, of the 1,271 CEO departures for the year to date, 209 were in health care, 155 in the computer industry and 148 in government and non-profit companies.

“Ironically, while the financial sector has been under fire in recent months, CEO departures have fallen, demonstrating how insulated these executives remain from the credit crisis that has resulted in thousands of job cuts since August,” Challenger said.

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