US firms increased inventories and sales jump in December

An employee operates a forklift at the distribution center of the Oregon Freeze Dry facility in Tangent, Oregon.
Leah Nash | Bloomberg | Getty Images

U.S. businesses stockpiled more goods in December and posted the biggest sales increase in nearly six years.

The Commerce Department says business inventories rose a seasonally adjusted 0.4 percent in December, led by an increase in stockpiles at stores that sell food and beverages. Auto and auto parts dealers reduced inventories 0.6 percent. Furniture and appliance stores also
cut back.

Companies also reported a 2 percent monthly sales increase, the best since March 2011.

Manufacturers reported that sales rose 2.2 percent in December. Retailers posted a 1.2 percent gain.

U.S. economic growth was hobbled much of last year by inventory cutbacks. But businesses rebuilt stockpiles in the October-December period, accounting for more than half of fourth quarter economic growth.