Wholesale stockpiles up 0.6 percent in November

By Martin Crutsinger
AP Economics Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. wholesalers boosted their stockpiles in November and their sales rose at the fastest pace since the spring of 2011, encouraging signs for economic growth at the end of last year.

Wholesale business stockpiles rose 0.6 percent in November compared with October, the Commerce Department said Thursday. That’s twice the increase from October, when wholesale inventories grew just 0.3 percent,

Sales in November surged 2.3 percent, rebounding from a 0.9 percent decline in October. It was the biggest one-month sales gain since March 2011.

With the November increase, wholesale inventories grew to $498.9 billion. That’s 29.6 percent above the post-recession low hit in September 2009.

More restocking leads to more factory production, which boosts economic growth. Faster restocking helped the economy grow at a 3.1 percent annual rate from July through September.

The increase in November could lead to stronger growth in the October-December quarter than economists have forecast. Some economists had worried that growth had slowed, in part because businesses cut their restocking at the end of the year because of uncertainty in Washington to avoid the fiscal cliff.

Congress and the White House finally reached an agreement on Jan. 1 — hours past the deadline — to avert sharp tax increases from hitting most Americans. But they delayed more difficult decisions on spending for another two months.

The growth in wholesale inventories and sales is among a number of signs that companies and consumers shrugged off those tense negotiations.

The economy added 155,000 jobs in December, in line with average job growth for all of 2012. The once-depressed housing market is rebounding. A gauge of U.S. service firms’ business activity expanded in December by the most in nearly a year. Auto sales for 2012 were the best in five years. And Americans spent more at the end of the crucial holiday shopping season.