Outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas said 103 chief executive officers were replaced in December, 8 percent fewer than the 112 who left in November and 4.6 percent fewer than the 108 departures in October.
The three-month total, however, was 26 percent higher than the final three months of 2011, when 256 CEOs were replaced.
In 2012, there were 1,213 CEO departures, a 3 percent increase over the 1,178 top management departures in 2011.
"The increased pace of CEO turnover in the final months of 2012 could be indicative of a turning point in the recovery. We may see heavy turnover continue into 2013 as the economy continues to improve and companies shake up management to reflect a change in strategy from one centered around maintaining stability to one focused on growth and expansion," said John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a Chicago outplacement consultancy.
For the year, healthcare CEOs had the highest number of departures with 230. Second most CEO exits were in government and non-profit companies, which saw 179 departures. Third on the list was computer firms with 127 departures.
The most common reason given for a CEO departure was resignation, which accounted for 360 departures. Retirement claimed 267 others, while 200 stepped into a new position, most often as a board member or chairman of the board.
Another 138 CEOs found work in other companies, Challenger, Gray & Christmas said.