Companies in U.S. Kept Lid on Inventories as Sales Fell in March

Companies in the U.S. unexpectedly held inventories in check in March as sales fell by the most in nine months, an indication orders will rise as demand picks up.

Stockpiles were little changed in March for a second month, Commerce Department figures showed today in Washington. The median estimate in a Bloomberg survey projected a 0.3 percent advance. Sales decreased 1.1 percent, the biggest retreat since June 2012.

The report also showed retailers cut inventories by the most in two years amid concern the increase in the payroll tax would prompt households to curb spending. Companies may need to restock depleted shelves, giving factories a boost, after another report today showed sales at merchants from clothing stores to electronics shops unexpectedly increased last month.

The median forecast for business inventories was based on a Bloomberg survey of 47 economists. Estimates ranged from little change to gains of 0.5 percent. February’s figure was revised from an originally reported 0.1 percent increase.

Another Commerce Department report today showed the retail sales increase in April reflected broad-based gains. The 0.1 percent increase in purchases followed a 0.5 percent drop in March. The median forecast of 81 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for a 0.3 percent decline. The figures used to calculate growth, which exclude categories such as automobiles, also advanced.

Retailers’ stockpiles, the only part of today’s inventory report not previously released, declined 0.5 percent in March, the biggest fall since February 2011. Sales decreased 0.6 percent.

Retail Inventories

Excluding auto dealers, retailer stockpiles dropped 0.6 percent, the biggest retreat since September 2009.

Consumers may have a means to make purchases as the job market improves. The number of Americans filing claims for jobless benefits decreased by 4,000 to 323,000 in the week ended May 4, the fewest since January 2008, a Labor Department report last week showed.

Businesses had enough items on hand to last 1.29 months at the current sales pace in March, compared to 1.28 the prior month, according to today’s report on inventories.

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