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Economy in Brief

U.S. Wholesale Inventories Rise Moderately; Sales Hold Steady
by Tom Moeller  May 9, 2017

Inventories at the wholesale level rose 0.2% (3.0% y/y) during March following a 0.3% February gain, revised from 0.4%.

Durable goods inventories strengthened 0.6% (2.5% y/y) after February's 0.2% rise. Motor vehicle stocks jumped 1.9% (2.3% y/y) and furniture inventories rose 0.6% (4.7% y/y). Inventories of computers and peripherals held steady (10.7% y/y), while general machinery inventories eased 0.5% (-2.5% y/y). Inventories of nondurable goods declined 0.5% (+3.9% y/y) after a 0.4% rise. Petroleum inventories fell 3.0% (+27.3% y/y). Chemical inventories  jumped 1.0% (3.4% y/y). Apparel inventories eased 0.2% (-9.3% y/y), while paper and paper products gained 1.9% (2.2% y/y).

Wholesale sales remained unchanged (8.3% y/y) in March after February's 0.7% increase, revised from 0.6%. A 0.2% rise was expected in the Action Economics Forecast Survey.

Nondurable goods sales were steady (10.8%) as petroleum sales fell 0.6% (+46.7% y/y), and chemical sales declined 2.0% (+8.3% y/y). Apparel sales dropped 1.0% (-4.5% y/y). Sales by durable goods wholesalers were unchanged (7.3% y/y). Computers sales fell 0.9% (-0.6 % y/y) as machinery sales improved 1.2% (8.1% y/y). Electrical equipment sales eased 0.3% (+3.1% y/y), but motor vehicle distributors' sales rose 0.7% (7.8% y/y). Furniture sales fell 0.3% (+3.7% y/y).

Wholesalers' inventory-to-sales ratio remained steady at 1.28. The ratio has steadily declined since February 2016.

The durable goods ratio of 1.63 was down from 1.74 in January 2016. The machinery I/S ratio of 2.84 was reduced from 3.15 a year ago. The motor vehicles ratio of 1.79 was down y/y from 1.88. The furniture I/S ratio was 1.65, about the same as a year earlier. The I/S ratio in computers and equipment improved y/y to 0.91. In the nondurable goods sector, the I/S ratio was 0.96, down from 1.02 a year ago. The petroleum industry ratio was 0.43, from 0.50 a year ago. The ratio in the chemical sector of 1.15 compared to 1.21 in March 2016.

The wholesale trade figures are available in Haver's USECON database. The Action Economic Survey results are contained in AS1REPNA.

Wholesale Sector - NAICS Classification (%) Mar Feb Jan Mar Y/Y 2016 2015 2014
Inventories 0.2 0.3 -0.2 3.0 2.6 1.1 5.8
Sales 0.0 0.7 0.3 8.3 -0.4 -4.9 3.6
I/S Ratio 1.28 1.28 1.28 1.35 (Mar '16) 1.33 1.32 1.21
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