US wholesale businesses likely boosted stockpiles by modest amount in February

Economic IndicatorsAssociated Press

The Commerce Department issues its February report on wholesale stockpiles Thursday at 10 a.m. Eastern.

STOCKPILING SLOWS: The expectation is that wholesale stockpiles rose just 0.1 percent in February, according to economists with data firm FactSet.

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INVENTORIES AND SALES: In January, wholesale businesses increased their stockpiles by 0.3 percent while sales were falling 3.1 percent. It marked the biggest drop in sales since a 3.6 percent decline in March 2009 when the country was mired in the Great Recession. January marked the fourth month that sales had fallen.

For February, economists believe sales at the wholesale level rose a modest 0.3 percent.

Economists are hopeful a small increase in sales in February will mark the start of a stronger rebound in coming months.

Analysts believe that the overall economy slowed in the January-March quarter, reflecting in part disruptions caused by the severe winter and a labor dispute at West Coast ports. Many analysts believe the economy, as measured by the gross domestic product, grew at a modest annual rate of 1.5 percent or less in first quarter. That would be even weaker than the 2.2 percent GDP growth in the October-December quarter.

But analysts remain optimistic that growth will rebound in the current quarter and the second half of this year with growth coming in at annual rates of 3 percent.

That forecast depends on the economy weathering the hit that U.S. export sales are expected to take from a rise in the value of the dollar which makes U.S. goods more expensive in overseas markets.

The Institute for Supply Management reported last week that its gauge of manufacturing activity slipped for a fifth straight month in March, falling to a reading of 51.5, down from 52.9 in February. The ISM survey found that demand for exports has been contracting for the past three months.