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--Feb Wholesale Sales Rise 2.3%; Inv/Sales Ratio Falls To 1.32
--Business Inventories Tracking Flat, Sales +1.5% 
By Kevin Kastner and Harrison Clarke
     WASHINGTON (MNI) - March wholesale inventories fell by 0.1%,  below 
the 0.3% gain expected by both a Bloomberg consensus and an MNI survey 
of analysts, while wholesale sales were up 2.3% in the month, data 
released by the U.S. Commerce Department Thursday showed. 
     Wholesale sales had initially been reported as flat in the advance 
indictors report published last week and incorporated into the first 
estimate of first quarter GDP.
     Factory inventories were already reported up 0.4% and the advance 
estimate of retail inventories was a 0.3% decline. Including today's 
data, business inventories are tracking at a flat reading based on an 
MNI calculation. 
     Retail trade sales, those excluding food services sales, were 
already reported up 1.7% in March's retail sales release, while factory 
shipments rose 0.7%, so MNI sees business sales tracking at a 1.5% gain. 
Here are the key findings from the release:
     - When excluding the 0.9% decline in the auto category, inventories 
would have been flat, according to an MNI calculation. Excluding a 
0.2% increase in auto sales, business sales would have been up 2.4%. 
     - The value of durable inventories rose by 0.3% in the month, led 
by increases in machinery, metals, and hardware. Nondurables inventories 
fell 0.6% in March on a 3.2% decline in drug inventories. 
     - Durables goods sales were up 1.4% in the month, on gains in 
miscellaneous durable goods, electrical, and lumber. This was partially 
offset by a decline in metals. Nondurable goods sales jumped by 3.1% in 
March with a 9.4% surge in petroleum goods (the largest drop since 
November 2017) the key factor. There were also sizable gains in farm 
products and groceries. 
     - Given the movements in sales and inventories, the inventory to 
sales ratio fell to 1.32 from 1.35 in the previous month. Seasonally 
adjusted inventories were up 6.7% year/year, outpacing a 3.9% year/year 
rise in sales. The ratio was 1.29 in March 2018. 
     ** MNI Washington Bureau: 202-371-2121 **