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US wholesale inventories up, sales post largest drop since 2009

[WASHINGTON] US wholesale inventories unexpectedly rose in January as sales recorded their biggest decline since 2009, pushing the number of months it would take to clear warehouses to its highest level in more than 5-1/2 years.

The Commerce Department said on Tuesday wholesale inventories increased 0.3 per cent. Stocks at wholesalers were revised to show them unchanged in December.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast wholesale inventories unchanged in January after December's previously reported 0.1 per cent gain.

Sales at wholesalers fell 3.1 per cent in January, the largest drop since March 2009, after slipping 0.9 per cent in December.

At January's sales pace it would take 1.27 months to clear shelves, the most since July 2009, up from 1.22 months in December.

Inventories are a key component of gross domestic product changes. The high inventory-to-sales ratio suggests wholesalers have little incentive to stock their warehouses, which could weigh on first-quarter GDP growth.