Wires

U.S. business inventories barely rise in December

WASHINGTON, Feb 14 (Reuters) - U.S. business inventories rebounded slightly in December as sales dipped, government data showed on Friday.

The Commerce Department said that business inventories gained 0.1% after slipping 0.2% in November. Inventories are a key component of gross domestic product.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast inventories edging up 0.1% in December. Inventories increased 1.4% in 2019 after jumping 6.2% in 2018.

Retail inventories were unchanged in December as estimated in an advance report published last month. That followed a 0.9% tumble in November.

Motor vehicle inventories fell 0.1% in December, rather than being unchanged as previously reported. Retail inventories excluding autos, which go into the calculation of GDP, were unchanged as reported last month.

The pace of inventory accumulation accelerated from the third quarter of 2018 through the first quarter of 2019, before shifting lower from the second through the fourth quarters. Some of the slowdown in inventory accumulation has been blamed on a strike at General Motors from September to late October.

Inventory investment sliced 1.09 percentage points from GDP growth in the fourth quarter, the most since the second quarter of 2018. The economy grew at a 2.1% annualized rate in the October-December period, matching the third quarter's pace.

Wholesale inventories fell 0.2% in December, while stocks at manufacturers increased 0.5%.

Business sales slipped 0.1% in December after advancing 0.5% in the prior month. Auto sales dropped 1.7% after increasing 1.6% in November.

At December's sales pace, it would take 1.40 months for businesses to clear shelves, up from 1.39 months in November. The auto inventory-to-sales ratio rose to 2.25 months from 2.22 months in November. (Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)