Sales Outpaced Inventories in November, Led by Oil

Inventories at U.S. wholesalers rose 0.6 percent in November, but they did not keep pace with sales, which saw the biggest monthly increase in more than two years on rising petroleum prices, the government reported Thursday.

The Commerce Department said sales rose by 2.2 percent in November, the biggest monthly gain since September 2005. That reflected an 8.9 percent boost in petroleum sales, which a
Commerce Department official said reflected higher prices. It was also the biggest rise since September 2005, when a devastating hurricane season drove up the price of oil.

Gas Pump
Mark Lennihan
Gas Pump

Analysts polled by Reuters expected a 0.4 percent gain in inventories, after a flat reading in October, which was unrevised. The department had a big revision in sales during October, reporting a 1.4 percent rise instead of the prior estimate of 0.7 percent.

In a sign businesses are not building up stockpiles as the economy slows, the inventory-to-sales ratio -- a measure of the number months it would take to deplete existing stocks at the
current sales pace -- fell to a record low of 1.07 months from October's downwardly revised 1.08 months.

Wholesale inventories for autos were up 2.3 percent, the biggest rise since April 2006, when they were up 4.5 percent.

Meanwhile, the number of U.S. workers applying for unemployment aid fell unexpectedly by 15,000 last week.

Initial jobless claims for state unemployment insurance benefits fell to a seasonally adjusted 322,000 in the week ended Jan 5, from a slightly revised 337,000 the prior week.

Wall Street economists were expecting a slight increase in new claims to 340,000 from the originally reported 336,000 in the week ended Dec. 29.

A Labor Department analyst said there were no special factors behind the surprise decrease and noted that this time of year can be difficult to account for seasonal adjustments.

"This is a real tough time of the year for us," he said.

Traditionally, there is a good bit of volatility during the period between Thanksgiving and the observance of civil rights leader Martin Luther King's birthday in mid-January.

The number of people who remain on the benefit rolls after drawing an initial week of aid dropped by 52,000 to 2.70 million in the week ended Dec. 29, the latest period these figures were available. But that number still remained close to levels reached during 2005 in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.