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Economy in Brief

U.S. Wholesale Inventories and Sales Decline
by Tom Moeller  January 11, 2016

Inventories at the wholesale level fell 0.3% during November, the same as in October. The decline reflected a 0.9% fall in durable goods due to a 3.0% drop in metal & minerals (excl. petroleum -13.3% y/y). Electrical goods inventories rose 0.1% (+3.6% y/y) and motor vehicle inventories improved 0.4% (12.5% y/y). Nondurable goods inventories declined 0.5% (+3.5% y/y) as farm products dropped 7.1% (-10.6% y/y) and apparel inventories fell 1.0% (+12.6% y/y). Petroleum inventories increased 2.3% but remained down 9.1% y/y with lower prices. Chemical inventories were roughly unchanged (+4.7% y/y).

Sales in the wholesale sector fell 1.0% (-2.0% y/y) following a 0.2% shortfall. Nondurable goods sales declined 2.4% (-5.1% y/y) as petroleum sales were off 7.4% (-36.8% y/y). Apparel sales fell 1.8% (+6.8% y/y) but grocery product sales improved 0.4% (1.0% y/y). In the durable goods sector, sales gained 0.4% (1.5% y/y). Furniture purchases rose 1.9% (10.9% y/y) and machinery equipment sales increased 0.6% (2.3% y/y). Electrical goods sales rose 0.3% (5.5% y/y).

The inventory-to-sales ratio ticked higher to 1.32, up sharply from 1.14 averaged in 2010 and 2011. The motor vehicle ratio increased to 1.78, the expansion's high. The ratio for furniture & home furnishings offset this rise with a sharp decline to 1.57, but has moved erratically sideways during the economic expansion. The nondurable goods ratio rose to 1.00, the highest level since 2001.

The wholesale trade figures are available in Haver's USECON database.

Wholesale Sector - NAICS Classification (%) Nov Oct Sep Y/Y 2014 2013 2012
Inventories -0.3 -0.3 0.2 2.1 6.7 4.1 6.6
Sales -1.0 -0.2 0.5 -2.0 4.3 3.0 6.2
I/S Ratio 1.32 1.31 1.31 1.23 (Nov. '14) 1.20 1.18 1.16
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