Stockpiles jump by most in 9 months

By Christopher S. Rugaber

AP Economics Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. companies boosted their stockpiles at the fastest rate in nine months in October as their sales grew. The gain in restocking indicates businesses anticipated a healthy holiday shopping season.

Business inventories increased 0.7 percent in October, the Commerce Department said last Thursday. That follows a 0.6 percent gain in September. Sales rose 0.5 percent, above a 0.3 percent gain the previous month.

The increase could signal better growth in the October-December quarter than some economists had anticipated. Greater restocking boosts growth because it requires more factory production.

Growth is still likely to slow from the July-September quarter's robust 3.6 percent annual rate, half of which came from a jump in restocking.

But consumers appear to be spending more, a trend that will help keep the economy growing at solid pace.

A separate report last Thursday showed that retail sales rose 0.7 percent in November, the biggest gain in five months. Americans spent more on big-ticket items such as cars, electronics, appliances and furniture. They also made more purchases online.

Retail sales have risen at a healthy clip for two straight months. That suggests that steady hiring has given Americans greater confidence to spend more.

The October gain in inventories comes after companies built up huge stockpiles in the July-September quarter. So far, however, economists say that inventories don't appear to be outpacing sales. A measure of inventories as a percent of sales shows that stockpiles are in line with historical averages.

Still, stockpile changes are likely to contribute much less to growth in the final three months of the year -- and maybe even subtract from overall growth. That's why many economists forecast that the economy will expand at a 2 percent to 2.5 percent annual rate in the October-December period.

The business inventories report includes data on stockpiles held by wholesalers, manufacturers and retailers. Wholesale businesses increased their stockpiles 1.4 percent in October, the fastest pace in two years. Retail inventories rose 0.8 percent and manufacturers added 0.1 percent.

Published: Mon, Dec 16, 2013