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U.S. business inventories inched ahead in February, suggesting that companies are trying to keep just enough on warehouse shelves to meet uncertain demand.
Total inventories rose 0.1% to a seasonally adjusted $1.642 trillion, the Commerce Department said Friday. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires had forecast a 0.5% increase.
February sales, meanwhile, jumped by 1.2% to a seasonally adjusted $1.287 trillion.
Businesses often stockpile goods if they expect demand to rise, though too much inventory can become an unwanted expense. Fuller warehouses also contribute to gross domestic product, the broadest measure of economic output. The change in real private inventories subtracted 1.52 percentage points from the fourth quarter's meager rate of growth.
The economy is expected to expand more rapidly in the first quarter of 2013, helped by inventory accumulation.
Friday's report showed inventories for manufacturers rose 0.2% and wholesalers fell by 0.3%.
Retail inventories climbed 0.3% in February, led by rising stockpiles of clothing and furniture.
A separate Commerce Department report Friday said retail sales fell 0.4% in March, driven weaker spending on gasoline, autos, electronics and general merchandise.
The inventory report showed that the amount of goods on hand relative to sales was 1.28 in February. The inventory-to-sales ratio measures how many months it would take for a firm to sell its current inventory.
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