March Wholesale Inventories Grew Modestly, While Sales Jumped

Inventories at US wholesalers rose modestly for the third straight month in March, while sales rose at their fastest pace in a year and a half, the Commerce Department said today.

Inventories at US wholesalers rose 0.3% in March after rising 0.4% in February and 0.6% in January.

Sales surged 1.8% in March after rising 1.0% in the prior month. Sales had declined 0.9% in January. The March gain is the largest rise since September 2005.

The inventory-to-sales ratio fell to 1.14 from 1.15 in the prior month, leaving it at the lowest level since December.

In the twelve months through March, inventories have risen a seasonally adjusted 8.1%.

Durable goods sales rose 2.1% in March, led by a 1.3% rise in auto sales and 3.4% gain in machinery sales. That's the sharpest gain in durable goods sales since last May.

Inventories of durable goods were unchanged in March, and the inventory-to-sales ratio for durables fell to 1.49 from 1.52 in February.

Wholesalers are middlemen operating between retailers and producers, who serve as absorbers for supply and demand shocks.

Sales of non-durable goods rose 1.5% as petroleum sales increased 0.8% in the month and grocery sales rose 1.5%.

Inventories of non-durable goods rose 0.8% in March, lowering the inventory-to-sales ratio for non-durables to 0.80.

Markets rarely react to the wholesale trade report, as the data is mostly used by economists to better gauge economic growth.