U.S. wholesale inventories rose more than expected in November as petroleum stocks rebounded, according to a government report on Thursday that also showed sales rose by the most in more than 1-1/2 years.
The Commerce Department said wholesale inventories increased 0.6 percent to a record $498.95 billion after a revised 0.3 percent rise in October. Economists polled by Reuters had expected stocks of unsold goods at U.S. wholesalers to rise 0.3 percent.
Inventories are a key component of gross domestic product changes and accounted for almost a quarter of the economy's annual 3.1 percent growth pace in the third quarter.
Economists expect a drawdown on inventories in the fourth quarter, which would be a drag on growth. Data next week on overall business inventories for November and December retail sales could shed more light on fourth-quarter GDP estimates.
So far, GDP growth estimates for the quarter range from 0.5 percent to 2.9 percent.
The value of petroleum stocks increased 1.3 percent in November after declining 2.5 percent in October. Automobile inventories rose 0.4 percent in November after rising by the same margin the prior month.
Sales at wholesalers rebounded 2.3 percent, the largest gain since March 2011, after falling 0.9 percent in October. Economists had expected sales to rise 0.6 percent.
Sales at wholesalers in November were boosted by autos, which bounced back 2.8 percent, the largest gain since January 2012, after falling 2.9 percent in October. Petroleum sales edged up 0.1 percent after dropping 5.9 percent in October. Apparel sales surged 5.0 percent, the most since December 2011.
At November's sales pace it would take 1.19 months to clear shelves. The inventories/sales ratio was at 1.21 months in October.